on October 19, 1994 by Kevin Courrier
Danis Tanovic's Oscar-winning debut, "No Man's Land," was filled with the political intrigue of two men -- a Bosnian and a Serb -- reluctantly sharing a trench in a time of war. "L'Enfer" is a compelling and complex thriller about women sharing a spiritual trench in a completely different kind of war.

Based on Krzysztof Piesiewicz's screenplay (originally conceived for the late Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski) that's loosely inspired by the second part of Dante's "Inferno," "L'Enfer" follows the lives of three completely unhappy women. Sophie (Emmanuelle Beart) is a married woman who comes to believe her photographer husband is having an affair with one of his clients. Anne (Marie Gillain) is a young student who is obsessed with one of her professors, a married man who has just split up with her. Celine (Karin Viard) is a spinster who cares for her invalid mother. Meanwhile, she becomes curious about strange advances made to her by a young man (Guillaume Canet) who approaches her in a bar.

For a long spell, Tanovic masterfully draws out the suspense by depriving us of knowing who these women are and how their stories connect. When he springs the narrative trap, however, everything falls perfectly into place without distilling any of the picture's tension. As in his first film, fate and free-will become predominant themes which are fluidly woven into the drama. A remarkable cast of French actresses, all playing on raw nerves, provide an electrical current that hums quietly under the story. Emmanuelle Beart has never appeared more emotionally torn and naked before. Marie Gillain brilliantly combines romantic desperation and intense emotional longing. Karin Viard effortlessly shrouds her beauty in lonely bereavement. "L'Enfer" provides the kind of sharp and subtle thrills that don't assault the viewer. It's so seductive in luring us into its web that "L'Enfer" lets you feel hell's heat. Starring Emmanuelle Beart, Karin Viard, Carole Bouquet and Marie Gillain. Directed by Danis Tanovic. Written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Produced by Cedomir Kolar. No distributor set. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 98 min

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