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TIFF BELL Lightbox - Henri-Georges Clouzot

12 Oct 2011

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The films of Henri-Georges Clouzot

The first retrospective of films by the French Master of Suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot begins its well deserved run at TIFF Bell Lightbox the 13th of October running till December.

Best known for the two films DIABOLIQUE and THE WAGES OF FEAR, his other films, many little seen are just as meticulously made with craft, care, precision and his brand of brilliance.  I had seen the aforementioned films a long time back and viewing them again brings much elated pleasure.

Of the 5 films reviewed below, three of them are 5-star MUST-SEE films.

A documentary of the director L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT made recently in 2009 that was only screened at TIFF provides a little insight on how the director worked and functioned.

For complete list of films, ticket pricing, venue and showtimes, please check the TIFF website at:

http://tiff.net/cinematheque

Capsule Reviews:-

LE CORBEAU
(To be posted)

L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT (France 2009) ***
Directed by Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea
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Films about the failure of the making of a film are not pleasant to watch.  Take Fassbinder’s BEWARE THE HOLY WHORE.  But, L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT is a documentary about the great director’s huge failure entitled INFERNO that never got released for several reasons including his heart attack before the film’s completion.  The project of the do got started when director Bromberg got stuck in an elevator with Clouzot’s widow, Romy Schneider the star of INFERNO.  INFERNO was supposed to be Clouzot’s artistic masterpiece about a man (Serge Reggiani) growing insanely jealous over his wife, played by Schneider.  Clouzot was given carte blanch in terms of budget but he grew temperamental towards his actors and crew while supposedly keeping his personal vision on the making of the film.  Bromberg interviews many of the crew that were involved in the film making, and all share the same views on the director’s descent into a kind of madness.  One could hardly believe that this man had made so many precision perfect films in the past.  The interviews are intercut with both footage of the actual film as well as the making of this film.  For a documentary on the failure of making a movie, Bromberg’s film is more than thorough.  L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT may not be for everyone.  If you do not know Clouzot or have not interest in film, this whole exercise may come across as a tedious bore, but for cineastes, the film is quite the eye-opener.
(Special Screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Nov 29th Tuesday 845pm)

DIABOLIQUE (France 1955) ***** Top 10
Directed b H.G Clouzot
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Undoubtedly the best suspense murder thriller of all time!  Based on the novel by Pierre Boileau, the film is the typical Hitchcock movie.  It was rumoured that Clouzot bought the rights of the novel just before Hitchcock could, thus infuriating the Master of Suspense.  But Hitchcock could not have made a better film.  Shot in black and white with the word sinister printed on every scene, DIABOLIQUE tells the story of a mistress and wife of a boarding school owner conspiring together to commit the perfect murder.  As one school colleague put it - it is really strange to see the wife comforting her husband’s mistress.  Simone Signoret plays the strong mistress while Vera Clouzot plays the weak hearted wife, both abused physically and mentally by the man they plan to murder.  Of course in stories like these, things never go as planned.  The body goes missing and the plot twists more than once at the end.  Clouzot ‘s film contains some wickedly brilliant moments.  The one in which the wife begins to warn her husband of the poisoned wine he is about to down only to get slapped by him is a classic.  She then quietens to pour him more of the poisoned wine.  Another has her burn the evidence with a match, the light brightening up her face to reveal her reaction.  As the two women leave in the car to drive back to the school with corpse in the boot, the neighbour says casually that the cops are around the major intersections theses days.  One sentence of dialogue such as this one is sufficient to drum up the audience anticipation for the entire car trip.  The atmosphere of the 50’s countryside France, the boarding school and emotional trappings of the two women are all wonderfully created.  DIALBOLIQUE was remade with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani in the 90’s, but some films like this one (and all Hitchcock films) should never be remade.
(Special Screening date: Nov 17th and 22nd at the TIFF Bell Lightbox)

LES ESPIONS (THE SPIES) (France 2011) ***** Top 10
Directed by H.G. Clouzot
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Dr. Malik (George Sety) is offered by a stranger, Col Howard (Paul Carpenter) a huge sum of money to harbour a spy (Curt Jurgens) in his mental institution.  He agrees as he is broke with only two patients, a mute girl (Vera Clouzot) and an alcoholic.  The next few days sees not only his nurse and cook disappearing but also all the guests and bartender at the neighbourhood joint, replaced by who Dr. Malik thinks are spies.  Events grow even stranger when the person he is harbouring claims not to be the Professor Vogel he was supposed to be.  LES ESPIONS is a brilliant Kafkaesque tale in which the beauty of it all is that what seems initially absurd and senseless turns out to be real events.  Dr. Malik tells everyone that it is really Vogel as it makes sense that Vogel would deny who he really is to him.  It turns out that the man is in reality not Vogel, yet everyone is trying to kill him.  With Malik initially giving up on the entire enterprise, he suddenly takes it as his duty to find and save the real Vogel (O.E. Hasse).  The film’s exciting climax takes place on a moving train where Malik tries to hide Vogel in his compartment.  Paranoia grows into fear and worse of all when he has no proof of what is happening and the police around do not believe him.  Though not executed as a comedy, the black humour is intact throughout the film.  The metaphor of the mental sanatorium to the existing world is more than appropriate in this one of Clouzot’s most complex and brilliant films of his career.
(Special Screening date: Nov 14th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox)

LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR (THE WAGES OF FEAR) (France 1953) *****
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
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If there is a film about suspense, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s THE WAGES OF FEAR is it.  Remade by Howard Koch with VIOLENT ROAD and even by William Friedkin with SORCEROR, the two films do not come close to the original.

One wonders how difficult it is to make a good film. Henri-Georges Clouzot follows the basics.  The first half gives the audience a good grasp of the film’s setting, in the fictional town of Las Piedras, isolated in the desert, the only contact with the outside world though a small airport.  A short 5 minute segment in which one character, Jo (Charles Vanel) arrives really sets the tone and atmosphere for the film.  One can almost feel the heat in the film.  The characters are introduced to the audience (4 in total) and the plot is set in motion.  The second half of the film is where the suspense begins and many scenes would have one at the edge of the seat.  Yes, character development is not forgotten in the film either.  Jo is a veteran who has now lost his nerve and no more the man he was.  The camaraderie between the Dutch and Italian is developed extremely well.

The film centers on the fates of 4 men are stuck in Las Piedras.  The 4 are the lead, Mario (Yves Montand), Jo, the Dutch, Bemba (Peter Van Eyck) and Mario’s roommate, Luigi (Folco Lilli).  The airfare is beyond their means (they are also noncitizens without proper paperwork for work or travel).  There is little opportunity for employment aside from the American corporation that dominates the town. The company, Southern Oil Company, called SOC, operates the nearby oil fields and owns a walled compound within the town. SOC is accused of unethical practices such as exploiting local workers and taking the law into its own hands.

The catalyst to the film’s action sequence is a massive fire at one of the SOC oil fields. The only means to extinguish the flames and cap the well is nitro-glycerine.  The company recruits the 4 as truck drivers.  The rest of the film has the 4 driving the rocky, dangerous roads carrying the volatile stuff.

The film screened is the original version with the restored 20 minutes.  Ahead of its time, the film has 20 minutes cut off – sequences involving exploitation of the company on the locals and some homoeroticism (Montand plants a kiss on the lips of Lilli in one segment).  LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR is also the best of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s films.

(Special Screening dates: Oct 13, 16, 18 and 19th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox)

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