The nameless old man and his (Dante-evokingly cleped) wife Beatriz have spent so much time together in their age-worn apartment, that loathing and love have become perversely inseparable. Both have their passions apart with slightly younger folks: he enjoys a lover, she delights in tango and her dancing partner. A maid observes these doings with a servant’s fascinated disdain. Over almost two and a half hours, an anti-drama develops of senescent sensuality and sex, the morbid curiosity of which slowly turns into a deeply humanistic dive into the abyss called life – towards its end, when nothing matters anymore but a sense of mutual comfort and one’s needs.
In many ways, Devil Between the Legs is the latest variation of Ripstein’s key obsession: the huis clos, but not in a comfortably Sartrean fashion, but a bleaker variety he himself anchored in Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus via the motto of José Donoso’s 1966 novel The Place without Limits, which he adapted brilliantly in 1977: Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d / In one self place; for where we are is hell, / And where hell is, there must we ever be. Luxuriously lit images in a black and white both radiant and crummy, graceful plan sequences, and the uninhibited display of decrepit human flesh make Devil Between the Legs a once-in-a-lifetime film experience.