Archive for Clouzot

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.

Joseph Losey really likes mirrors

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2022 by dcairns

Reflections of all kinds, in fact. Here are some from TIME WITHOUT PITY:

They become so pervasive that ordinary shots of people in doorways start to seem like full-length mirrors, in which the characters are startled to see not their own faces, but those of perturbed strangers.

But BLIND DATE aka CHANCE MEETING is maybe even mirrorier.

The late Hardy Kruger is fascinated by his own face, as well he might be. There’s an oval mirror that looks forward to THE SERVANT’s famous convex job.

Oddly, we’d just watched Elio Petri’s L’ASSASSINO, which is practically the same movie. It even has the same female star, Micheline Presle, as its murder victim (or is she?). The preening hero in that one is Marcello Mastroianni, and he’s likewise harried by a persistent detective determined to establish his guilt in a murder case. BLIND DATE and TIME WITHOUT PITY have a lot in common too, both hinging on innocent men wrongly accused, murdered mistresses, with a background of weird art and loud records, but they’re not as strikingly alike as BD and L’A. Petri MUST have seen the Losey.

Losey and Petri do relate in a lot of ways — both made pop art comicbook thrillers in the sixties (MODESTY BLAISE and THE TENTH VICTIM) — but more significantly, both are addicted to sinuous camera movements in artfully designed spaces. And mirrors!

L’ASSASSINO is also fascinating because it has soft-spoken raincoated proto-Columbo Salvo Randone instead of Stanley Baker’s belligerent bull. The slow, gentle persecution of the smug creep plays exactly like a Columbo except there’s a different narrative structure — flashbacks, and a crime kept ambiguous until the end — as in BLIND DATE. I guess this cat-and-mouse jazz all dates back to Crime and Punishment. Clouzot gave us TWO proto-Columbos in QUAIS DES ORFEVRES and LES DIABOLIQUES. The same year Columbo made its first TV appearance, William Peter Blatty wrote a gently bumbling inspector with a mind like a steel trap in The Exorcist, and had to change him a bit for the film so he wouldn’t seem like a Peter Falk knock-off. But this proto-Columbo has a particularly good name.

His name is Palumbo.

‘There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.”‘ ~ Ricky Jay, MAGNOLIA.