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René Clémènt, dopo
aver sceneggiato una serie di film comici [fra i quali Soigne tou gauche (1937), con Tati]
e dopo tre documentari di carattere archeologico e contemporaneo, diresse nel 1944 il suo primo film,
La bataille du rail, un tributo semidocumentario ai ferrovieri che presero parte alla
Resistenza, col quale Clémènt si presentava come il Rossellini francese. Realizzò
invece con Cocteau la fiaba coreografica La belle et la béte (1946) e con
Les maudits (1947) diede un dramma apocalittico e metaforico sull'autodistruzione del
demone nazista e diresse Le pére tranquil (1946), di gran lunga il miglior film di
Nel 1949, sceneggiatore Zavattini, diresse Au delà des grilles (1948), un film noir con Gabin nella parte del fuggitivo, braccato dalla polizia per aver assassinato la moglie, che is innamora di una locandiera. Nel 1952 giunge il successo di Jeux interdits, malinconica denuncia degli orrori e dell'assurdità della guerra attraverso tenere scene d'infanzia:
Nel 1954 è la volta di una commedia ironica su Monsieur Ripois, cinico seduttore che vaga senza lavoro per Londra e seduce e abbandona una donna d'affari, una brava ragazza e una prostituta che lo disgusta; riesce a farsi sposare da un'ereditiera, ma, innamoratosi di un'affascinante amica della consorte, e da lei respinto, minaccia il suicidio, ma per disgrazia cade davvero dalla finestra riducendosi a un demente. Del 1956 è Gervaise, la mediocre trasposizione di "L'Assomoir" di Emile Zola, che descrive la sordida vita di un disgraziato.
Gervaise finds a good man who is willing to marry her. For a while she is happy. They work hard but he is a nice man and she has what she always wanted: a family. She is saving money to start her own boutique. Alas, Gervaise falls down a roof and remains disabled. She spends her savings to take care of him. The blacksmith, Goujet, a friend of her husband inherits some money and lends it to her so she can open her own laundry. She's happy again. One day she meets Virginie, who got mattied with a cop and moved to an apartment nearby. Virginie is friendly and willing to forget their past. She tells her that Lantier left Adele and may come back. Goujet even takes one of Gervaise's sons as an apprentice in his shop. The shop is doing well, and Gervaise hires more women to help her, but her husband, who is still not working, is becoming a drunkard. One day she finds out that he has been spending the money that she saved to pay back Goujet. Ashamed, she goes to apologize to Goujet, but he doesn't want any money. He is obviously in love with her and almost kisses her. In the meantime, Virginie tells her that Lantier is back.
Lantier shows up at a big dinner at Virginie's place. Instead of being jealous, her husband welcomes Lantier (who hardly cares to see his children) and invites him to stay. Gervaise realizes that it's all been planned by Virginie. In the meantime, Goujet has been arrested for leading a workers' protest and is sentenced to one year in prison. The bad man is a guest in her house and the good man can no longer help her.
The husband gets worse and worse. One night, while her husband is brought back unconscious by the cop, she cannot resist Lantier's seduction. That is the beginning of a sordid menage a trois. The husband even pawns sheets of her customers to pay for his drinking. Goujet is released from jail but decides to leave. Gervaise entrusts her older and hard-working son to him.
She has to work hard and is behind paying rent to the landlord and the salary to her helper, while her two men indulge in a nice lifestyle. After she finds out that Lantier has been sleeping with Virginie too, Gervaise throws him out of the house. Lantier coldly proposes to her husband that they should sell the shop. It turns out Virginie is the one who is interested in buying it: now the whole plot is clear to Gervaise. She would be willing to continue the fight, but one night her husband goes mad and destroys the shop before dying. Gervaise is left with nothing. The daughter she had from her husband has to go around begging.
Pur saltando di palo in frasca, Clémènt ha definito per bene la sua personalità di regista: un provetto narratore, capace di condurre in porto qualsiasi soggetto e avvicinare lo spettatore, sollecitando i suoi appetiti sentimentali, avventurosi o comici. Fedele al proprio eclettismo, ha tentato la nouvelle vague
The thriller Plein Soleil/ Purple Noon (1959) is a very minor transposition of the novel "The Talented Mr Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith. In the book, the suspense is continuously recreated by a series of plot twists in which the protagonist basically challenges rationality, trying to find more and more subtle solutions to harder and harder problems that he himself has created. But Clement's film is a poor recreation of that suspense.
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