Julien Duvivier is undoubtedly one of France’s most important and influential directors. Unfortunately unlike many of his contemporaries, such as Jean Renoir and René Clair, Duvivier’s cinematic contributions are sometimes forgotten. He was often dismissed by the Nouvelle Vague and I personally think his real talents were in re-imagining crime thrillers and fantasy films, which are genres generally overlooked by most critics. The director’s ability to produce worthwhile films in multiple genres may have not won him much critical praise during his lifetime, but in recent years Duvivier’s contributions to French noir and fantasy cinema have slowly begun to be fully appreciated.
Duvivier found some success in Hollywood during the late 1930s and early 1940s with the lavish musical The Great Waltz (1938), a the star-filled comedy called Tales of Manhattan (1942) and the fascinating anthology Flesh and Fantasy (1943), but he’s mainly remembered for the films he made with the great French actor Jean Gabin such as the wonderful Pépé le Moko (1937) and Voici le temps des assassins… (1956). Unfortunately many critics still dismiss his later films and that’s a shame. I think some of Julien Duvivier’s most interesting movies were made in the sixties, including his last film Diaboliquement Vôtre (a.k.a. Diabolically Yours, 1967) which I just watched for a second time recently.
Diaboliquement Vôtre is a dark psychological thriller starring one of my favorite actors, the remarkable Alain Delon, along with Senta Berger, Sergio Fantoni and Peter Mosbacher. The movie opens with Georges Campo (Alain Delon) taking a long drive at high speeds down a seemingly deserted road in the French countryside. The drive is powered by a great soundtrack from composer François de Roubaix and it’s beautifully shot from the perspective of the driver. This perspective never really changes throughout the film since most of the events that follow are seen through the eyes of Delon’s character Georges. When the drive ends with a violent crash Georges finds himself waking up inside a hospital with amnesia. He quickly notices a wedding band on his finger but he can’t seem to recall his wife Christiane once she arrives at the hospital. Georges’ wife Christiane is played by the beautiful actress Senta Berger so he has no problem following her home even if he can’t remember marrying her.
When Georges arrives at his country estate he is overwhelmed by his luxurious surroundings. He can’t remember previously living there, but he’s more than happy to move in and make himself comfortable. Georges’ complacency seems a little odd at first but with a partner as lovely as Senta Berger and a home fit for a king, it’s understandable why someone might not ask too many questions and just accept their fate with a smile.
Things begin to get complicated when a family friend and doctor named Freddie (Sergio Fantoni) arrives for a visit and Georges seems to recognize him. Georges’ memories of Freddie don’t appear to coincide with reality but it’s clear that Georges’ reality has become more than a little clouded after his accident. Georges expresses doubts about his new home and current wife, but Freddie manages to convince him that his injuries from the car crash are the reason for his confusion. The two men share a few laughs and Georges soon falls comfortably into the role of loving husband and Master of the manor again.
We’re also introduced to a Chinese servant named Kim (played rather stereotypically by German actor Peter Mosbacher) who devotes himself to Georges’ wife Christiane. The servant Kim not only cooks and cleans, but he also sews all of Christine’s cloths, offers her massages, styles her hair and satisfies numerous other desires. Georges seems to sense something strange about the relationship between his wife and the servant so he becomes increasingly rude and aggressive towards Kim as the movie progresses. Georges’ anger seems to increase as every sexual advance he makes towards his wife Christiane is refused.
As the film unfolds Georges becomes more and more suspicious of everyone around him and the situation he has found himself in. He even begins to question his own sanity after he starts hearing voices and having disturbing nightmares. Georges is also continually given drugs which are supposed to be helping him recall his memories, but they only seem to be adding to his muddled state of mind.
One of the most interesting things about Duvivier’s Diaboliquement Vôtre is the way the director plays with ideas about human identity and memory, as well as destiny and fate which were common themes that Duvivier seemed to enjoy exploring in many of his films. Alain Delon’s character Georges is perpetually torn between discovering the truth about his identity and succumbing to the pleasures that his current life offers him. He could easily answer many of the questions he continually raises about his past by asking to see family photos and talk to other family members or friends, but instead he engages in an ongoing conversation about his existence with himself and anyone who will listen. These conversations seem to take place in a void or echo chamber where Georges’ thoughts are continually thrown back at him.
The film’s stylish modern look also adds a lot to the production. Diaboliquement Vôtre was shot by the great French cinematographer Henri Decaë who was behind the camera for many of Alain Delon’s most important films such as Plein Soleil (1960), Le Samourai (1967), Le Cercle Rouge (1970), Les Félins (1964) and Le Clan des Siciliens (1969). Decaë’s camera was clearly in love with Delon because he shot the actor beautifully and manages to continually imbued him with an aura of charm and mystery that is undeniably appealing. Henri Decaë’s skillful camera work also flatters the lovely actress Senta Berger who has rarely looked more beautiful than she does in Diaboliquement Vôtre.
The movie ends with a few minor twists and turns which may or may not surprise viewers, but in the end we still know very little about Georges and the rest of the characters in the film. Their future is also a bit of a mystery since Duvivier’s conclusion to Diaboliquement Vôtre is somewhat open to interpretation and in turn lets us imagine multiple outcomes. Like many European thrillers from the period, Diaboliquement Vôtre shrouds it’s rather conventional plot in metaphors and existential ideas that will probably only appeal to a handful of viewers. At first glance it’s easy to miss a lot of the movies’ underlying themes, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and follow Georges down his path to self discovery I think some viewers might find the film as rewarding as I do.
In a horribly ironic twist, director Julien Duvivier was killed in an auto accident on October 30th just a few days after completing production on Diaboliquement Vôtre in 1967. It’s impossible to watch this film without considering the director’s final moments. There is something telling in Duvivier’s existential world view that seems to seep into the film’s every frame and shape its somewhat ambiguous end. If Diaboliquement Vôtre is any indication, the director would have continued to make interesting films if he had lived a bit longer and that is a real tragedy. As pessimistic and conventional as the film might appear to some, I think it has a kinetic energy and progressive style that’s incredibly modern and appealing. Diaboliquement Vôtre is an important final addition to Julien Duvivier’s extensive filmography.
Diaboliquement Vôtre is currently available on DVD as Diabolically Yours from Telavista but the quality of the DVD is rather awful. Hopefully another company will restore the film and give it the quality widescreen release that it deserves.