Henri Clouzot

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6.8 The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (1942)
7.2 The Raven (1943)
7.1 Quay of the Goldsmiths (1947)
5.0 Miquette (1950)
7.8 Wages of Fear (1953)
7.2 The Devils (1955)
5.0 The Mystery Picasso (1956)
6.8 The Spies (1957)
7.0 The Truth (1960)
5.0 The Prisoner (1968)

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me. Il tirocinio negli anni '30 di Henri Clouzot (France, 1907), ex-studente di scienze politiche, fu lungo e vario: sceneggiatore, soggettista per registi minori, assistente di Dupont, direttore di produzione per i rifacimenti francesi dei film tedeschi. Esordì come regista con un poliziesco, L'Assassin Habite au 21/ The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (1942), ma sfondò veramente con il successivo Le Corbeau/ The Raven (1943), un altro thriller che però descriveva a tinte fosche l'ambiente della provincia francese durante l'occupazione: In a small village (presented in a manner halfway between the idyllic and the ominous) a gynecologist, Remy Germain, leaves a farm after a failed pregnancy. A man who is dying of liver cancer at the hospital, Francois, receives the visit of his mom. The doctor walks in and a nurse, Marie, sees a letter in the pocket of his jacket. She tries to grab it, but the doctor destroys it before she can read it. He visits an attractive neighbor, Denise, who pretends to be sick in bed but is just faking it to get the doctor's attention. Another woman, Laura, confronts him: she received a pison pen letter that exposes her as his lover, so she thinks he told someone of their secret meetings. He walks into his own apartment and finds yet another letter. Laura walks into her apartment, meets her much older husband, the psychiatrist, and finds another letter. They are all signed "the raven". The chief physician of the hospital reads a letter to his financial assistant in which the assistan is accused of corruption, and the assistant in turns reads a letter in which the chief physician is accused of seducing his daughter. The letters always attack Germain as an abortionist. while his assistant is accused of corruption Denise seems to spend her entire life in bed. Denise fakes another illness, and this time Germain sees her walk: she limps after a car accident. That night they make love, but the stern Germain resists Denise's seduction, and she hates him for that. Alone, she pulls out a stuffed raven from a box... When he returns home, he finds the raven in front of his apartment's door. Denise's teenage sister Rolande sees it, and asks Germain for money with a pathetic excuse. Laura and Germain meet in a church, but it turns out that both the letters that each believed the other one wrote are fake. Denise, who was also tipped by the Raven, catches them in private conversation and unleashes her jealousy. The cancer patient receives a letter from the raven telling him the truth about his illness, and he commits suicide. The doctors at the hospital suspect that the nurse Marie, Laura's sister, is the Raven, because Germain accused her of stealing morphine. A letter even falls from the carriage that is carrying the dead man during his funeral procession. It is addressed to the townsfolk, and exposes Germain as the seducer of Laura, Denise and soon Rolande. The women attack Laura and soon there is a crowd demanding to lynch Marie. She runs from the hospital but is chased in the streets of the town. Marie is saved by the police, who arrest her. Germain decides it's time for him to leave town, despite Denise begs him to stay for her sake. But another letter surfaces, actually falls from the sky, during mass, in front of the all town, to announce that they arrested the wrong person. A woman is paid to set a trap: ask him to perform an abortion. He refuses, but she would not have betrayed him anyway because she recognizes him as the brain surgeon who once saved her life. Thus he decides to tell the truth: he walks into a meeting of the town's authorities and confesses that he is not a gynecologist, but a famous brain surgeon. He fled his hospital and Paris when his wife died after cheating on him with his best friend and getting pregnant. Now the stern doctor Germain turns into a cunning investigator, determined to find out who the Raven is. Laura's husband the psychiatrist suspects Denise. To find the Raven, the psychiatrist proposes a test: the 18 people who were in the gallery of the church when the letter fell are asked to re-write the Raven's letters. The mother of the liver cancer patient thinks she knows who the Raven is and swears to take justice into her hands. Germain sees a letter in Denise's room: it's a letter signed Raven, in which she tells him that she is pregnant of him. But, confronted, she denies she is the Raven. She is only a desperate woman. She tells him that Laura phoned him, but it is not true. On the other hand, Laura has a letter from the Raven threatening to kill her if she continues her affair with Germain. It looks like Denise is the Raven, after all. But then Germain sees that Laura has ink on her finger, and understands: Laura did make the phone call, and now is only trying to frame Denise. Germain walks to her husband, the psychiatrist, but the old man already knows: Laura went mad, he thinks, because of the frustration of being married to an old man. The phone rings: Denise fainted and fell down the stairs. Laura stops Germain on the way out and screams that the Raven is her husband, he is the madman. The ambulance comes and takes her away. But Francois' mother has struck: the old psychiatrist lies dead at his desk, and a woman in a black veil walks away in the street.

Da questo giallo "Lang-iano" sul tema della colpa Clouzot torna al poliziesco con Quai des Orfevres/ Quay of the Goldsmiths (1947), tratto da "Legitime Defense" di Stanislas-Andre Steeman, interpretato da un ineccepibile Louis Jouvet nella parte di un commissario che deve risolvere un caso di omicidio. Più che l'intreccio, banale, conta il quadro d'ambiente, cupo miscuglio di eros passionale, vile gelosia e feroce crudeltà, e il ritratto umano del commissario, un poliziotto antiretorico, acuto e comprensivo, impotente e malinconico testimone del male.
It's an impeccable, Hitchcock-ian "whodonit". It is also a portrait of a mediocre man who feels humiliated by the by the rich, and of the generous friend, a woman who lived in the shadow of her two friends, ready to suffer for both, and of an aging inspector, both melancholic and witty, who has seen it all and understands the human soul better than a psychologist.

Jenny is a cabaret singer, and her husband Maurice is a pianist who usually accompanies her at the piano, and he gets easily jealous. Her performance is a success but this means that a lot of old leacherous men surround her and want her attention, which only makes Maurice more jealous. Her best friend Dora is a photographer, who works on her posters, and she tells her that she truly loves Maurice. In her office Jenny meets Brignon, an old ugly but wealthy pervert who pays for photographs of scantily dressed young women. He invites her and she secretly meets him. Maurice learns of the meeting from Dora and gets angry. Jenny confesses that she wanted to take advantage of rich Brignon and then promises that she'll never see him again. But then she accepts an invitation to lunch because he offered a lucrative deal. Maurice asks why he is not invited and she replies that she didn't tell Brignon that she's married: that would ruin the deal. A furious Maurice drives to the restaurant alone and confronts Brignon. The whole staff hears Maurice threaten to kill Brignon. One night Maurice is working with another singer, Ginette, and Jenny phones that she has to rush to see her grandmother. However, when he gets home, he finds a clue that she has gone to another secret rendezvous with Brignon, this time at his very home. Maurice takes his revolver, checks in at the musichall to be seen by many people, leaves without being seen from a backstage door, drives to Brignon's villa and... finds him dead. Maurice runs to his car but a thief steals it before he can stop him and Maurice has to walk all the way back to the musichall, getting in just when the show has ended. One of the performers, a magician, is still there and tells him that there was a mishap during his show. Meanwhile, Jenny is confessing in tears to Dora that she went to Brignon's villa to sign a contract but had to defend herself and killed him. Dora promises not to say anything, and adds that she's doing it for Maurice. Jenny forgot something on the couch and Dora offers to go and rescue it, while Jenny heads to her grandmother's place, her alibi. Dora has just returned home that Maurice shows up, confessing what he did and that he is scared of being accused of the murder. Dora proves to him that Jenny is indeed at her grandmother's by phoning her in front of him. Dora, again, promises not to say anything. She has remained single all her life and we understand that she likes Maurice and envies Jenny. The following day the newspapers talk about the murder. A taxi driver in a cafe' boasts that he took a blonde to Brignon's villa. A humane inspector, Antoine (Louis Jouvet), is in charge of the case. He knows that Brignon was a scumbag but, reluctantly, it's his job to find the killer. He begins by interviewing Dora because he suspects Brignon's many young lovers. He happens to meet Jenny and Maurice first, and chats amiably about his profession, unaware of their involvement. At the same time, Maurice and Jenny are unaware of each other's involvement. It doesn't take long for the inspector to find out about Maurice's argument with Brignon and its cause. Maurice's alibi is that he was at the musichall, Jenny's alibi is that she was with her grandmother. Antoine investigates at the musichall and finds out about the backstage door, and methodically dismatles Maurice's alibi. Maurice is terrified and plans to flee. Dora finally tells Jenny that Maurice was at Brignon's villa that night. Jenny plans to turn herself in. Dora stops him. Dora herself gets in trouble when the taxi driver recognizes her as the blonde he took to Brignon's villa. To further confuse the inspector, it is discovered that a notorious gangster called Paulo used Maurice's car for a holdup. It's Christmas Eve. Grilled by Antoine, Maurice finally confesses that he was at Brignon's villa and that Brignon was already dead. Antoine also finds out that Jenny took the train to her grandmother's place only late at night, after Brignon had been killed, and concludes that Maurice caught Jenny with Brignon, killed Brignon and then Jenny went to see her grandmother. It all points at a crime of passion and at Maurice as the killer. Maurice is jailed and tries to kill himself. When she hears of it, Jenny confesses that she's the killer: she killed him breaking a bottle on his head. When Dora hears of Jenny's confession, she confesses too, trying to save a friend. Antoine is impressed that now they all admit that they were at Brignon's villa, but none of them is the killer because Brignon was killed by a bullet, not a bottle, and Maurice's revolver didn't fire any bullet. Antoine makes Paul confess that he killed Brignon. Maurice and Jenny return home together, more in love than ever. It's Christmas Day.

Con Manon (1949), liberamente tratto da "Manon Lescaut" di Prevost, Clouzot professa il suo polemico interesse per la società Francese. Anche in questo film ciò che conta è il quadro d'ambiente, la denuncia dell'opportunismo e dell'ipocrisia che covano nel grembo della Francia contemporanea.

Lo stile semplice e immediato di Clouzot si concede una tenue divagazione con Miquette et sa Mére (1950), commedia confezionata su misura per Jouvet.

Le Salaire De La Peur/ Wages of Fear (1953) ritorna alla forma del thriller, alla situazione crudele, alla tensione narrativa, alla suspense, acuendo il senso dello spettacolo e il gusto per l'esotico che trapelavano da Manon, concentrando l'azione nel microcosmo di due camion in mezzo al deserto.
It is three films into one: first the fresco of the isolated town and its legion of aimless trapped foreigners; then the long and exhausting journey, the impossible mission, through a barren landscape with the suspense at every obstacle on the road, with most of the action and the psychology packed in the narrow space of the truck; and finally the existential tragedy of a failed man determined to finish one glorious mission in his life, no matter how pointless the tragedy.

The film opens with fake-documentarian scenes of ordinary life in a poor Latin American town. Westerners are lazily sitting at the tables of a cafe'. One of them, Mario (Yves Montand), flirts with the girl washing the floor, Linda. The cafe's owner also "owns" her. Mario doesn't seem to mind that she's basically kept as a slave. When the airplane carrying the mail flies over the town, the cafe's owner dispatches two of the foreigners, Bimba (a German) and a young Italian, Bernardo, to the airport. The airplane also carries passengers, notably a Frenchman in a white suit who bribes the immigration official to get a tourist visa: Jo. He is happy to run into a fellow Frenchman, Mario. He tells Mario that he's broke and fleeing the law, but the cafe's owner, Pepito, treats him like a special guest. Mario tells Jo that he's stuck in that town, surrounded by the desert, with rare opportunities to work: air tickets are too expensive and the highway ends at some oil wells. That town is like a prison. People die of malnutrition and diseases. The oil company from the USA runs its own camp, away from the town. Jo mentions the name of the manager, Bill, and Jo recognizes him as an old bootlegger buddy with him when they were young. Jo tries to blackmail Bill, but Bill shows him that the company is too well organized to cheat. Mario also has an Italian roommate, Luigi, who is construction worker and an excellent chef. Mario is fascinated by the newcomers and nostalgic about Paris, so he even breaks Linda's heart by canceling their date in order to hang out with Jo. And he even gets into an argument with Luigi because of Jo. Later Jo provokes and humiliates Luigi at the restaurant and even hands him a gun but Luigi is a good man and can't harm anyone. The following day the townfolk mourns 13 dead workers whose death they blame on the oil company. The oil company ssends its own security guards to quell the protest. There's a fire at an oil well 500 kms away. Bill fabricates evidence to show that it was the workers' fault. In order to put off the fire, the oil company needs men to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerin to the oil well. Bill advertises in town that the oil company is offering a lot of money for four experienced drivers. Lots of foreigners line up at the company, including Luigi, who just learned from the doctor that he has lung cancer and only one year to live, Bimba, Jo, Mario and Bernardo, who is desperate because his visa expires soon. Linda warns in vain Mario that it's a deadly job. Bill demonstrates nitroglycerin to the men and warns them that a bump on the road can blow up the trucks. Nonetheless, most of the men are willing to take the risk. Bill tests each of them to see if they can drive in difficult conditions without braking suddenly, which would cause the nitroglycerin trucks to blow up. Bill chooses Luigi, Bimba, Mario and another man, but not Jo: Bill considers him too old. Jo gets rid of the fourth one and Bill accepts to replace him with Jo himself. Bernardo, desperate that he can't leave that town, hangs himself. The two trucks leave in the evening: Jo and Mario in one, Luigi and Bimba in the other one. They have to drive slowly and carefully: the slightest vibration would cause an explosion. Luigi and Bimba are faster and leave Jo and Mario behind. When they approach a legendary bad road full of bumps, known as "the washboard", they have to drive fast, which is counterintuitive but it's the only way for the truck to drive smoothly. Luigi does it sweating, but does it. When his turn comes, Jo, on the other hand, freaks out and stops his truck in the worst possible place. Mario has to take over the driving until the end of the "washboard". The road now climbs mountains. The next obstacle is a construction barricade that they have to bypass over a precarious and slippery wooden platform. Luigi and Bimba manage it. Jo is ready to give up, and even runs away, convinced that the truck will explode, but Mario finds a way: the platform collapses seconds later. And now Mario, furious, can mock Jo who always behaved like the tough guy but he's proving to be a coward. The next obstacle on the mountain road is a big boulder that fell in the middle of the road. Again, Luigi and Bimba arrive first and have to find a solution. the obvious solution is the dynamite that they are carrying. Mario and Jo arrive in time to witness the risky operation that proves Bimba's courage (he is the one who pours the explosive and lights the fuse) and almost kills Luigi, but successfully wipes out the boulder. Mario and Jo are chatting casually when suddenly they hear and see the explosion of the other truck downhill from them. Jo is terrified and jumps out of the truck. Mario chases him and beats him up. Jo is now only a whining old man. Mario forces him back into the truck. They pass by the place where the other truck exploded: the truck has disintegrated and the crater is getting filled with oil from a raptured pipeline. Now they have to cross that pond of oil. Mario now treats Jo with disdain. Jo gets waist deep into the pond. Mario is stubborn and doesn't want to give up. The catch is that he must not stop the truck because it would get stuck in the slick oil. Jo walks in front of the truck to remove debris and the loses his balance. Jo refuses to stop the truck and runs over Jo who is trapped and can only scream. The truck gets stuck in the oil mud anyway just when it's almost on the other side. Jo is completely covered in black oil, in pain and with a smashed leg. Mario pulls him out of the pond but he's focused on getting the truck through it. Mario finds an ingenious way to get the truck out of the mud while Jo keeps moaning in pain. Then he loads Jo on the truck and keeps driving. They are now crossing a vast desert. They keep awake remembering Paris. Mario drives day and night and finally reaches the oil field where men are battling the fire. Just then Jo dies and Mario cries. They are both covered in black oil. Mario is welcomed as a savior, but he somberly informs the men that the other three drivers are dead. The following day Mario, all clean and rested, after pocketing the hefty reward, is given the same truck (with no dynamite) for the return trip. He can now drive as fast as he likes. Linda receives the good news by phone. It should take only a few hours to get back to the town. Mario celebrating by zigzagging on the dangerous mountain road, while his friends at dancing at the cafe' (the two motions are juxtaposed as one dance). But Mario makes one mistake, the truck plunges into a ravine, and Mario dies in the crash.

La crudeltà fa capolino in diversi punti e soprattutto nell'episodio in cui Montand passa con il camion sulle gambe del compagno per non far arenare il camion in una pozza di petrolio. Epico ed antiretorico nello stile limpido e plastico del regista, Le Salaire de la Peur è un film disperato, ambientato fra disperati che tentano un'impresa disperata (un'illusoria spedizione verso la libertà). È un incubo mozzafiato, un viaggio onirico, una perlustrazione morbosa dell'inconscio della paura, un'amara meditazione sull'irreversibilità del destino umano.

Les Diaboliques/ The Devils (1955) è il giallo in cui culmina la brama di suspense e crudeltà del regista: Un film d'atmosfera, carico di minacce e di tensioni, surreale, sul tema dell'identità ambigua, o della mancanza d'identità.

In a boarding school of the countryside Nicole has been beaten by her lover, Michel, the director of the school, when he came home late the night before. His wife Christina, originally from Latin America, consoles her. The whole school knows of the manage a trois. THe man is a brute. He forces Christina to eat against her will. He has the school serve too little food to the children. Alone with the two women, he insults both. And then he forces his wife to have sex. Nicole has a plan to kill him, but Christina doesn't have the guts. The two women go on vacation for a few days and Christina finds the courage to go along with Nicole's plan. She calls her husband Michel and pretends that she wants a divorce. This is enough for the man to immediately take the train. Nobody knows that he came to town. They have an alibi because the landlord and landlady saw them. Nicole prepares a bottle of drugged wine to put him asleep. When he arrives, CHristina confronts him. He is as arrogant as usual. For a second she tries to stop him from drinking the wine but he slaps her in the face. Then she starts pouring the wine. When he falls asleep, the two women drag the body into the bathroom and drown him in the tub. The following day they pack the corpse in a trunk pretending it's their luggage and return to the school. At night they dump the body in the swimming pool. Christina pretends to be worried that the man is missing. Nobody knows where he went. One day Nicole drops her keys in the pool so they have an excuse to drain the pool. The pool is drained, but no corpse is found! Nicole searches the whole school, but there is no trace of the corpse, of footsteps, of any sign that someone tampered with the body.
Later the boy of a dry cleaner delivers the suit of the man, claiming that it was the man himself who asked for the suit to be delivered at home. The two women, puzzled, visit the dry cleaner and learn that there was a key in the suit: the key of a hotel room, a very expensive hotel. Christina takes the key and enters into the room, but there is nothing. The staff tells her that they have never seen anyone.
Christina is now nervous. She accuses Nicole of being the one who planned it and carried it out. One accuses the other one of having killed him out of jealousy. After the fight, however, they read in the newspaper that a naked body has been found in the nearby river. They think it's him. Christina goes to the morgue to identify him but it's not him. An elderly man introduces himself as a retired inspector who volunteers to help find the missing person. He starts asking questions around and promises to check with the police (not exactly what the two women wanted). The another mysterious event takes place: a child claims to have broken a window with his slingshot and to have been punished by the director. The women yell at him that he is lying, but he keeps saying that he saw the director. Now Christina fears that the man might be alive and torturing them. In fact, Christina is getting sicker and sicker, her heart weaker and weaker. The doctor who comes to visit doesn't tell her the truth: he doesn't want to take her into his clinic because he's afraid she will die there (bad publicity). While the doctor is inside, a photographer takes a picture of the children. When the picture is developed, they can see someone staring at one of the windows, and it looks like the director. Now both women are afraid. Nicole decides to flee. Christina is too sick to follow her and in any case she is torn by sense of guilt. The inspector shows up in the middle of the night. Christina confesses everything, but the inspector does not believe her.
At night Christina sees and hears someone walk around the house while everybody is asleep. She even hears the noise of the typewriter that only her husband used. The typewritten has written his name over and over again, but there is nobody in the room. Christina runs back to her room terrified. She walks into her bathroom and finds... her husband's corpse in the tub! The dead man starts rising slowly from the tub. Christina dies of a heart attack. Michel walks out of the tub, checks her pulse to make sure she is dead, and then calls... Nicole. They planned it together: to kill Christina so they could get married.
But their plan fails because the inspector is there to arrest them.
It is not finished though. The day after the "murder" the same child who had seen teh director claims that he has just seen Christina alive...

Dopo Le Mistère Picasso (1956), omaggio al grande pittore, e lo spionistico Les Espions/ The Spies (1957), ambientato in una clinica dove si tessono intrighi ai danni di uno scienziato atomico, Clouzot scolpisce un altro thriller di grande effetto con La Veritè/ The Truth (1960), impostato secondo l'approccio "giudiziario" di Cayatte e secondo un'analisi psicologica dell'imputata con l'obiettivo di denunciare bigotti e conservatori ottusi e malvagi: Ancora una digressione sul significato della colpa, una narrazione ad effetto e una vicenda straziante di falliti condannati da un destino inesorabile . E un piccante ritratto di adolescente inquieta e insoddisfatta, alla disperata ricerca di qualcosa ma senza sapere cosa.

Brigitte Bardot è una ragazza disinvolta e istintiva giunta da una cittadina di provincia dove si muore di noia che, innamoratasi del fidanzato della sorella modello (sempre la favorita della famiglia), non esita a portarglielo via e a instaurare una relazione; il suo carattere volubile e impulsivo provoca però diversi litigi, sempre conclusi da appassionati e reciproci perdoni; ma quel controverso amore sfocia nel dramma quando lei, per difendersi da un impeto rabbioso, lo uccide; al processo, inchiodata dalle sue scandalose abitudini (ozio, amicizie equivoche, sfacciataggine, promiscuità) più ancora che dalle prove, non riesce a spiegarsi, tanto più che giudici e avvocati sono esseri amorfi e privi di umanità, pieni soltanto di codici e di cavilli; scoppia in una crisi isterica e grida: Siete morti! Siete tutti morti!; tenta anche il suicidio, ma l'accusa sostiene che si tratta di una messa in scena; soltanto la morte della disgraziata, per un altro tentativo, questa volta riuscito, chiarirà la disperata sincerità della ragazza.

Dopo l'incompiuto L'Enfer/ Hell (1964), La Prisonière/ The Prisoner (1968) amplifica lo stile plastico di Clouzot e la figura del fallito (il marito tradito, il conducente del camion, la ragazza amorale); L'eros passionale e la redenzione attraverso l'amore rimandano a Manon.

La moglie di un pittore pop è attratta morbosamente da un voyeur impotente, un mercante d'arte che la fotografa in pose pornografiche; il marito scopre la tresca e medita la vendetta, ma la donna corre ad avvertire l'amante che ormai ama sinceramente, ma viene travolta da un treno e spira mormorando il suo nome.

È l'ultimo film di Clouzot, che si spegne nel 1977, e contiene al massimo grado la componente stroheimiana del cinema di Clouzot: la noia e l'avvilimento che portano alla crudeltà.

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