Innocents With Dirty Hands (France, 1975):
(Les Innocents aux Mains Sales)

The title of this Claude Chabrol thriller is terrifically emblematic -- when in his movies (or in Hitchcock's, or Lang's) are there hands unsullied by sanguine evidence? Culpability permeates the plot's Double Indemnity Revisited trio, with luscious trophy wife Romy Schneider's bare-assed sunbathing session interrupted by hunky Paolo Giusti's descending kite; no sooner has she introduced him to her impotent, boozy, self-pitying hubby (Rod Steiger) than she's fucking him on the lush living room rug, and the two are hatching a plot to dispatch weak-hearted Steiger out of the equation. Schneider dutifully bludgeons the figure under the bedcovers, though Giusti gets the shakes and splits for Italy, leaving her to deal alone with the prodding of a duo of police snoops and, less explicably, with news of the supposedly-killed husband draining the bank account and putting their St. Tropez home for sale. The pricey setting is La Femme Infidèle territory and, again, murder serves as both decadent outgrowth and transforming catalyst for a spiritually bankrupt relationship. "Believe it or not, I'm trying to forgive you," says a newly rejuvenated Steiger after humiliating his duplicitous vixen of a wife. Normally filed under Misogynist, Chabrol has actually always displayed unusual sensitivity for the travails of the female psyche, and underneath the character's cultivated chill lies La Passion de Romy Schneider -- her gorgeousness both a cross to bear and a weapon to wield, she sails from languid femme fatale to penalized victim to redemptive soul. Since there is little hope of help from justice ("the truth is whatever people want to hear," according to quicksilver attorney Jean Rochefort, who should know), her deliverance is inevitably spiritual, following a light that could stand for salvation or death or, knowing Chabrol, a combination of both. From Richard Neely's novel.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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