Criterion Sunday 227: Le Corbeau (1943)

One of those crime films with the deep shadows, the chiaroscuro and accompanying shades of moral greyness, that distinguishes film noir, in which all the inhabitants of a small town are brought into conflict by a mysterious letter writer, whose identity gets pinned to any number of people throughout the film, and whose accusations get steadily more unnerving. Clouzot is most interested, it seems, in the way that ‘decent’ people can have their judgement clouded, and become the enemies of other ‘decent’ people, ultimately suggesting perhaps that everyone has base motivations. Given that it was made under German occupation, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Clouzot — if not uncomplicatedly making an anti-Nazi film — is at least not willing to let anyone off the hook for what humanity is capable of.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot; Writers Louis Chavance and Clouzot; Cinematographer Nicolas Hayer; Starring Pierre Fresnay, Micheline Francey, Ginette Leclerc; Length 93 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 9 September 2018.

Criterion Sunday 193: Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

A whodunit movie, I suppose, but one in which that all seems a little beside the point by the end (it’s a really short scene of ‘it was me all along!’ ‘Oh, okay then’ or something like that; and I won’t remember the plot contrivances by this time next week). This is a film about the detective (Louis Jouvet) — the title refers to the address of the Paris city police, somewhat in the manner of Scotland Yard in the UK — and the film tracks him as he follows leads and hunches in investigating the murder of a wealthy creep. In the course of this, the detective stalks around the theatre and its milieu, interviewing people, teasing out relationships and the underlying currents that connect people and push them apart. It’s a film of great style, and lived-in weary performances, which seems something of a trait of the Clouzot films I’ve seen. Everyone talks a whole lot, but it’s the kind of solidly unflashy film resonant in lived-in period detail that seems to characterise an older, black-and-white, era of filmmaking. As such, it would probably make a lot more sense if I were watching it in a cinema.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot; Writers Clouzot and Jean Ferry (based on the book Légitime défense by Stanislas-Andre Steeman); Cinematographer Armand Thirard; Starring Louis Jouvet, Suzy Delair, Bernard Blier; Length 106 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 28 January 2018.

Criterion Sunday 36: Le Salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear, 1953)

You can understand, watching it, why The Wages of Fear is so well-regarded as a thriller, but it takes its time to get going. For about the first hour, the film is firmly engaged in scene setting, flitting amongst its close-knit group of down-on-their-luck European grifters stranded in a remote Mexican town where the only way in and out is an airfield. Their problem is that they don’t have enough money for an airfare and the only local source of jobs is a US-run oil corporation that shuts itself away from the rest of the squalid town and doesn’t want anything to do with the local population. A leader of sorts emerges with Frenchman Mario (Yves Montand), who is soon joined by the older Jo (Charles Vanel), hopping off a plane hoping for a break, but quickly finding himself stuck like the others he meets. Director Clouzot picked a remote French location to film, near the Spanish border (so the voices heard are as likely to be Spaniards as Mexicans), but he sets up his one-horse town well, with some scene-setting lifted almost wholesale by Sam Peckinpah for The Wild Bunch (kids taunting some bugs in the first shot, for example). The sense of mud and heat is pervasive and intense, so only when this has had a chance to really sink in does Clouzot and his fellow screenwriter (his brother, using a pseudonym) introduce the plot: some locals are needed by the American company to convey a dangerous shipment of nitroglycerine in trucks across the mountains to put out an oil fire. It’s a simple setup and the kind of thing that’s influenced generations of stripped-down action films: you’ve got the omnipresent danger (here, the nitroglycerine) hanging like Damocles’ sword, and you have an equally combustible mix of strong-willed personalities (or weak-willed ones, as Jo increasingly turns out to be). But in allowing some time to set his scene, the film ends up being something of an attack on the futility of capitalism — a society in which its inhabitants are trapped by a lack of money, and whose only salaried opportunity to escape is almost literally rigged to kill them. Whatever happens, no one wins: such are, after all, the wages of fear.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot; Writers Clouzot and Jean Clouzot [as “Jérôme Géronimi”] (based on the novel by Georges Arnaud); Cinematographer Armand Thirard; Starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel; Length 147 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Wednesday 13 May 2015.

Criterion Sunday 35: Les Diaboliques (Diabolique, 1955)

Acclaimed as a classic psychological thriller, Les Diaboliques was an inspiration for Hitchcock’s Psycho (he worked another novel by Boileau & Narcejac into Vertigo, after all) and a whole strand of creepy haunting horror films. There’s certainly a tension throughout between the supernatural and the all-too-real, though it’s never in doubt as to what an unpleasant, controlling character headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is, simultaneously keeping his wife Christina (Véra Clouzot) in check while carrying on with his mistress Nicole (Simone Signoret). Putting the viewer onside with Christina and Nicole’s plot to do away with Michel is a key to the way the subsequent events play out, and though the end title card may warn against spoilers, the set-up probably seems quite familiar thanks to its influence over subsequent filmmaking. Clouzot is excellent at building suspense through the womens’ plotting and then over the uncanny turn things take when he’s gone, using the shadows in the black-and-white photography to good effect. There’s a nasty streak to the film, but it remains an effective genre exercise, even 60 years on.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot; Writers Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi (based on the novel Celle qui n’était plus by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac); Cinematographer Armand Thirard; Starring Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse; Length 117 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 26 April 2015.