Huis clos (1954)

HUIS CLOS (1954)
aka No Exit
Article 3155 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-1-2010
Posting Date: 4-4-2010
Directed by Jacqueline Audry
Featuring Arletty, Franck Villard, Gaby Sylvia
Country: France
What it is: A vision of hell

Three people go to hell, where they share a room together. They soon discover that hell has no demons or torturers of their own, and that it is they themselves that will perform those functions on each other.

This movie was based on a one-act play by Jean-Paul Sartre, and it is the source of a famous four-word phrase (in English, that is) that announces its theme. I knew before watching the copy I came by that it was going to be in French with German subtitles, and that it was going to be heavy with talk and light with action, but since the play is well-known, I managed to read about half of it before I watched the movie, so I was better prepared for it than some others. Since the play was only a one-act, has only four characters (the fourth is a valet that pops up to make sure the guests are (un)comfortable), the movie opens things up by giving us a sequence before the characters enter the room, where they spend time in the lobby of hell and learn such things as the uselessness of bribery. It also gives them a window in the room out of which they can see events taking place in the world of the living after their deaths; in the play, they only see visions, while here, we see them too. The theme (and for those of you not familiar with the phrase, it is “Hell is other people.”) is handled convincingly; we all know people we would hate to be trapped in a room with for eternity, and the presence of three gives the opportunity for shifting temporary allegiances where two characters can gang up on the third, but no victory is ever permanent and all will get the chance to be victimized. The title’s meaning is simple enough and the meaning becomes significant by the end of the movie. It’s interesting, but it does get a little tiresome; after all, there’s a reason the play was only a one-act.

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