The multi-part film is a difficult kind of cinema to get right but Duvivier’s Le Diable et les dix commandements is a rare exception where the form succeeds admirably. The film consists of seven roughly 15 minute sketches, each showing what may happen if one or more of the Ten Commandments is broken. Each sketch is self-contained (except for the last which returns to the first) and linked by a nasty slithery serpent who has a very strange sense of humour. The sketches are either mini-dramas, usually with a clever twist at the end (the best instance of this being the second sketch: “Do not commit adultery”), or comic. The sketch featuring “Do no steal” is an outrageous comic farce with Jean-Claude Brialy and Louis de Funès, made even more hilarious by Duvivier’s unsubtle attempt to ape the New Wave film directors.
The cast list for the film reads like a section of Who’s Who of French cinema, with no less than a dozen luminaries of the 1940s and 1950s, including: Fernandel, Danielle Darrieux, Michel Simon and Lino Ventura, not to mention the incomparable de Funès. Not content with established acting talent, Duvivier also embraces up and coming stars, including Jean-Claude Brialy, Charles Aznavour and a very young Alain Delon. This variety of acting talent is also mirrored in the variety in the seven sketches, showing how incredibly versatile a director Duvivier was. What is so remarkable is how well Duvivier uses his star-studded cast: not one character appears out of place. Although most of the actors are on screen for a few minutes, you cannot help remembering their contribution long after the film has finished.
The film is rich in unforgettable little moments, but the absolute highlight is the final scene, in particular the expression on Michel Simon’s face when he thinks he has killed the Devil.
Overall, this is an entertaining film which exploits the multi-part formula with unparalleled panache and originality. It is not in the league of Duvivier’s earlier great films, but it is nonetheless an entirely satisfying and memorable film. To top it all, the film very nearly achieves the impossible feat of reconciling the past and future directions of French cinema at its most effervescent period.– James Travers
2.81GB | 2s 24m | 1024×424 | mkv