Archive for Clouzot

Fifty Shades of Maigret

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2023 by dcairns

Continental Films, the German company based in Paris at the time of the Occupation, which was sort of in command of the whole French film industry, produced four Georges Simenon adaptations, comprising Henri Decoin’s classic LES INCONNUS DANS LA MAISON, starring Raimu, and three Maigret films, directed by Richard Pottier, Maurice Tourneur, and Richard Poittier again.

I’ve just lately watched the Poittier entries — PICPUS and LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC. I saw the Tourneur, CECILE EST MORT!, but I can’t recall a thing about it except it was great. Time to revisit.

In all three films, Miagret is Albert Prejean and his sidekick Lucas is a fellow called Andre Gabriello. The writers adapting Simenon differ, and this seems to make a big difference. (Simenon wanted to work for Continental and adapt his own works, which may tell you something about him — most of the people who did work at the studio had no choice.) Simenon like Prejean’s performance as his hero, but there was initially some concern that Prejean, primarily a light comic, was too young and too lightweight to play the dour plodder, but audiences embraced him — the only two previous Maigrets, who appeared the same year, were Harry Baur and Pierre Renoir, working for Duvivier and Jean Renoir, who were much closer in age and temperament, though Baur, like later three-time-Maigret Gabin, was a bit more explosive than the character in the books.

The strange thing is, Prejean IS too lightweight, but the films solve that by bending the character to fit — this Maigret is many times more whimsical, flippant, and cheeky than the novels’ version and, like Benoit Blanc, he’s also a celebrity detective (which is not a thing). It’s as if it was felt that taking a famous fictional sleuth and putting him on the screen just naturally required that his fame needed to be acknowledged by the supporting cast. WE’VE all heard of Maigret, so why wouldn’t the populace in the films.

PICPUS is written by the fascinating Jean-Paul Le Chanois (a Jewish communist resistance member working for a German film company) who later became a hate figure for the nouvelle vague as a director of the cinema du papa school, but it needs to be noted that Henri-Georges Clouzot was head of the script department at Continental, and the humour smacks of his playfulness, black comedy and grotesquerie in, say, L’ASSASSIN HABITE… AU 21, and even LE CORBEAU. Fiona became convinced of this.

The plot in this one is insanely convoluted, and then magically boils down to a simple confrontation with very little summary required. A nice job of screenwriting.

There’s a crazy sequence where we’re suddenly at the Last of the Mohicans Archery Club and everybody’s wearing an Indian headdress — it’s interesting that Maurice Tourneur, who directed (co-directed, really) MOHICANS in Hollywood, was around, and would make the sequel. But he doesn’t seem to have ever been attached to this one — I now have a copy of Christine Leteux’s book Continental Films, which produces the receipts.

By the time of LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC, the last Continental production as the occupation ended, scripted this time by the great Charles Spaak, the comedic tone has been modified a bit to allow more emotion, and Prejean’s Maigret has reintegrated the character’s original interest in psychology and humanity — his interest in why is greater than who. But this had been blended with Prejean’s light persona, so that Maigret can say he’s forgotten all about the murder he’s supposed to solve, because he’s more concerned with the human fallout.

This is the film whose shooting is documented in Tavernier’s underrated LAISSEZ-PASSER — Spaak completed the film in prison after being arrested, and this partly explains why there’s so much talk about food in the film — the writer was starving and couldn’t think of anything else. But the film’s concentration on the theme of paternity becomes even more moving when you know that Spaak’s wife, pregnant with their first child, had also been arrested. They got out OK in the end.

Poittier’s more interesting than I had somehow assumed — he throws in a splitscreen shot in PICPUS (as Lucas briefs Maigret on a murder, we see the discovery of the body played out in a little box) and an impressive sequence shot in CAVES.

It’s curious — I tend to rate movie Maigrets on their resemblance to the literary figure, but Prejean’s portrayal demands to be judged differently, on the basis of how successful his warping of the role is. And it’s extremely successful, on its own terms.

All the facts here come from Leteux’s book and Tavernier’s film. Some of the speculations are mine.

Double Double Cross

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2022 by dcairns

PIEGE POUR CENDRILLON — A TRAP FOR CINDERELLA — Sebastien Japrisot’s twisty thriller adapted by Jean Anouilh and directed by Andre Cayatte — is very interesting.

Dany Carrel excels in, effectively, a triple role. She plays cousins — one rich one poor — there’s been a fire — the poor one is dead, the rich one is recovering from surgery, and amnesiac. Now, we’ve seen some plot twists, between us, so we start suspecting early on. Could it be…? Japrisot is ahead of us, he has further twists stacked up, waiting to land. Distracted by our smugness, we fall into his trap.

Carrel was typically cast as a sexpot gamine, her trademark move, like ROCKY HORROR’s Little Nell, was to pop out of her top. But she was always good, and could be REALLY good, as she is here, distinguishing three roles, particularly the most sympathetic, the post-op burns victim, hands in white cotton gloves, fingers curled. A very good physical performance, but her eyes seal the deal.

Playing the two schemers, she resorts to her sexy bag of tricks. Playing the survivor, rendered innocent by memory loss, she’s liberated by no longer having to worry about being cute or sexy. She’s like a newly-landed alien or angel.

The b&w cinematography of Armand Thirard (like Carrel, a Clouzot favourite, though for different reasons) is lambent, sharp, clinical. And there’s quite an extraordinary score by Louiguy: murmurous, muffled, distant, like a memory you can’t quite recover.

Cayatte was old-school, but this is 1965 and he’s clearly been paying attention. Jumps into flashback are accomplished by straight cutting. Amusingly, the clinic where Carrel recuperates has design echoes of MARIENBAD — the perfect place to get your memory back, or maybe someone else’s.

Cayatte hands the splitscreen and other tricks with aplomb — the cousins’ first meeting is a shot/reverse-shot with a garage elevator — Carrel#1 filmed in a pan from the elevator, through the gridwork, Carrel#2 with a high-angle circular move. It’s so stylish it distracts from the illusion being sold. By the time the two girls do appear in the same frame, we more or less believe they’re both there, and the director has a bunch of alternatives to the usual 50/50 vertical split shot:

The success of LES DIABOLIQUES has obviously prompted this one, but it has more humanity. I do find humanity in Clouzot, but LD is too concerned with constructing a trap for its audience to really attain consistent empathy — or, at any rate, the final outcome is nasty and sly rather than emotional. Here, the tricks ultimately bring us to a response richer than just “ah-hah!”

The Sunday Subtitles: As I Speak

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on March 6, 2022 by dcairns

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s episode of the anthology film RETOUR A LA VIE (1949), which deals with France’s liberation and recovery from the war, isn’t screened much, which is a shame because it does much to illuminate his work. Usually, Clouzot is thought of as an unsympathetic filmmaker, judging his variously tawdry and abhorrent characters from on high.

But perhaps the concept of radical empathy would be a useful one here. In Clouzot’s episode, Le Retour de Jean, the great Louis Jouvet’s Jean has been wounded escaping from a prison camp and is now living in a wretched hotel for displaced persons (awful food being a Clouzot favourite topic) in constant pain from a leg injury (the world, for Clouzot, is one great hospital/sanatorium/asylum). By chance, a wounded German escapee falls into his clutches. Jean is at first sympathetic — he has been in this man’s position. Then he learns the man was a torturer, the worst of the worst, condemned to death for his crimes.

This is a golden opportunity for Jean, who has been tormented by the question of inhumanity — now he has in his grasp a man who can provide answers. And he does, indirectly. As Jean presses the man to explain his actions, he discovers the torturer in himself…

This is not, it seems to me, the creation of a man lacking empathy, nor os a cruel man. If Clouzot often seems harsh to us, I think it’s because he does want to depict the worst in mankind, which obviously exists and is obviously suitable for depicting. But he extends to even his most awful characters a kind of empathy which can be a little too much for his audience. (I recall a friend saying that he couldn’t wait for the protagonists to get blown up in THE WAGES OF FEAR, that this was the only suspense he felt.)

In other words, it’s not Clouzot who is unsympathetic and judgemental. It’s the audience. It’s humanity.