a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Le corbeau (1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

Where do you think Blue Velvet and all those suburbia-as-mask-for-a-rotten-cesspool movies hail from? For argument's sake, let's say it's this, one of the many morbidly witty pics from Henri-Georges Clouzot (Wages of Fear; Diabolique). Set, rather ingeniously, in one of those quaint French towns popularized by Marcel Paignol movies, Le corbeau translates into "The Raven," the nom-de-plume of a serial poison-pen letter-writer who's been sending them to each and every denizen of the town. With everyone's secrets -- sins, sexual dalliances, one possible homicide -- exposed, the town quickly goes crazy, and the hunt is on. Could easily be called cruel and misanthropic, but Clouzot, as ever, is not easy to pin down. He views the characters as having dual-natures -- good-natured eccentricity, he sees, goes hand-in-hand with back-stabbing or jealous rages. And so, Pierre Fresnay's beacon of truth can turn villainous more than once while the crippled would-be femme fatale can also become the film's most sympathetic creature. A noticeable hit in its day, it was also viewed as a nasty critique on France; Clouzot didn't work for four years, though at least he had the decency to release an even better movie -- the less-scathing but blindingly humanistic masterpiece, Quai des orfevres. To further punt the theory that they are the most gratuitously benevolent company on the planet, every Clouzot I've mentioned has been Criterionized.


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