Archive for The Wages of Fear

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.

Mills and Boom

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2021 by dcairns
Anthony Quayle are you trying to seduce me?

So, HOBSON’S CHOICE launched us into a mini John Mills Film Festival. This included TUNES OF GLORY and ICE COLD IN ALEX, which might be crudely termed “trembling upper lip” films, where the certainties of the wartime propaganda films (which are actually far more complex and intelligent than you might expect) are replaced with PTSD, alcoholism and moral doubt.

ICE COLD IN ALEX balances all this with its other role, which is to be a rip-roaring suspenser, a kind of British answer to THE WAGES OF FEAR, without that movie’s bracing misanthropy but with a relentless series of tense situations. Our heroes, separated from the retreating British army, have to drive an ambulance through the North African desert, trying to reach a friendly city while Rommel’s army continually overtakes them. The balance isn’t perfect, but this may still be director J. Lee Thompson’s best film, with very strong performances — Mills is very fine, Sylvia Sims and Harry Andrews are reliable support, and Anthony Quayle is unusually interesting — and nail-gnawing sequences of slow-mounting peril.

The movie’s celebrated for its closing sequence, which is impossible to discuss without spoilers. Here goes.

Mills’ character, a traumatised soldier fuelled by alcohol, keeps himself going with the promise of a drink in Alexandria. At the end, the foursome make it (very surprisingly, the film largely does without a body count, with only two speaking parts slain) and Thompson slows the pace right down. Everybody is doing terrific work. Since Mills has to down a pint in one, Thompson seems to have set up two cameras for tightly-framed groupings. The sound mixer is doing great work too — distant traffic comes to the fore, emphasising the stillness of the scene. The one thing the film doesn’t have is a great score (it’s okay… with a nod to Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War) but fortunately it’s not needed here. The camaraderie and respect of the characters is palpable.

Hardly surprising that decades later, the scene became an ad for Carlsberg, the lager so prominently featured (and before product placement, unless it was done on the QT).

And the movie isn’t even finished with us yet — it delivers another unexpected moment of teeth-grinding tension immediately after this.

Film Directors with their Trousers Off

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 28, 2019 by dcairns

LES SCANDALE CLOUZOT is a pretty damn good documentary by Pierre-Henri Gibert, who has assembled an amazing array of archive material (above, Clouzot presents a trailer, Hitchcock-fashion, for his uncompleted documentary BRASIL) and some good talking heads. Maybe not as amazing as the line-up assembled for the earlier L’ENFER D’HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT, but substantial, and substantially different.

If I have a quibble it’s that we don’t learn exactly what scandal the title refers to, and the film doesn’t make an overall point or tell a real story. But there are interesting insights and anecdotes along the way.

Plus we get valuable photographs of Clouzot directing THE WAGES OF FEAR with his trousers off. In fact, going on the impressive visual evidence assembled, he seems to have helmed his masterpiece entirely without any trousers whatsoever, a possibly unique achievement for a male filmmaker.

Not that his legs are particularly beautiful specimens. Sturdy, yes, but not elegant. His brilliance as a director was not matched by a corresponding length of limb. Maybe, like Napoleon, he made up for his short extremities by being a great commander. There are a lot of great directors who are short, after all.

Below is a scene from LA VERITE, playing in London next week. I’m going to be down in the metropolis and had hoped to see it, but I don’t think the timing will work out. Still, I will have some cinematic adventures to report, I hope!