Despite an impressive pedigree, Danis Tanovic's adaptation of an unfilmed Kieslowski script L'Enfer feels like a shaggy dog story at times despite some good scenes and at least one powerful moment with some overheard lovemaking. The story doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny, following the lives of three sisters who have lost touch but are still linked by the emotional fallout of their father's suicide while they were still children. The youngest, Marie Gillain, is having an affair with her own father figure (Jacques Perrin), the father of her best friend; the middle sister, Emmanuelle Beart, is in the dying days of a failed marriage to a philandering photographer (Jacques Gamblin); while the oldest, Karen Viard, is an emotional shut-in looking after their wheelchair bound mother (Carole Bouquet, particularly unconvincing in old age makeup and a terrible silver wig) and possibly being romanced by an equally socially awkward Guillaume Canet.
As they all suffer in their private hells, made worse by slight glimmers of hope, the truth about their father's prison sentence for seducing a young male student finally comes to light, leading to... well, not very much, really. Once the not very surprising cat is out of the bag, the film doesn't really know what to make of its rather underwhelming revelation. The punchline is a song title, though when it's delivered you might find yourself thinking Is That All There Is? may have been a better choice.
The presence of Emmanuelle Beart, increasingly a monument to France's collagen and silicon industries as she unwittingly turns into a Tex Avery cartoon, almost sounds a warning note: this is her second film called L'Enfer after Chabrol's misfired 1994 of an unfilmed Henri-Georges Clouzot script. It's hard not to feel that the reason both projects never saw the light of projector with their original creators was because ultimately there wasn't quite enough there to justify the effort. Certainly there's the feeling that Kieslowski's reputation has assembled a more formidable array of talent than the same material from an unknown source would have done. In some ways, the impressive cast occasionally threaten to swamp the film. While it's always a pleasure you see Jean Rochefort, his casting in a bit part adds nothing to the movie but more weight of expectation that remains unfulfilled: he really has nothing much to do. Indeed, it's significant that it's Georges Siatidis' smitten train conductor who leaves the most lasting impression in a minuscule role rather than any of the heavyweights. It's by no means a terrible film, and it certainly holds the attention en route to its anticlimax.
Still, the UK DVD presentation is excellent, with a good 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, one-hour documentary Reflections of Hell and the original trailer.