Henri-Georges Clouzot

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Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby kingrat » Fri Nov 11, 2011 4:43 pm

With Maven's enthusiasm for QUAI DES ORFEVRES, perhaps we should have a separate thread for Henri-Georges Clouzot. A search for past references to Clouzot showed great enthusiasm for THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953) and others of his films, and Mr. Arkadin said that he could write on and on about that film and LE CORBEAU. I hope he has the time to do that, and I hope some of the rest of you do, too!

I hadn't seen THE WAGES OF FEAR since college, and in these cases you always wonder if you'll still love a film as much as on first viewing. The version I had seen was cut for American audiences, dropping, I believe, some of the unfavorable portrayal of the American oil company and some of the homosexual implications. I remembered loving the almost unbearable nail-biting suspense of the scenes when the trucks make their perilous journey with their cargo of nitroglycerine. Every bend in the road means potential disaster, and you know Clouzot is ruthless enough to kill off any of the four drivers. I remembered, too, the cosmic pessimism and existential angst, which, in this situation, seemed totally justified.

None of that had changed. What was new to me was an admiration for the opening part of the film, which at the same time 1) seemed even better than neorealism, with an amazing documentary sense of a real world in which the story takes place and 2) had an editing rhythm which took my breath away, as if this had been storyboarded just like Hitchcock. I don't recall another film which manages that paradoxical feat. I also admire the completely polyglot world of the film, with, at a minimum, English, French, Spanish, and Italian dialogue in various scenes. Mario (Yves Montand) speaks a little Italian; Luigi (Folco Lulli) speaks a little French; Jo (Charles Vanel) speaks a little English; Bill O' Brien, the oil company boss (William Tubbs), tries a little French, and so on. This adds layers of texture as well as realism.

I recalled that Jo was implicitly gay, but Clouzot's version goes considerably beyond what the American censors could stomach. At the beginning of the film Mario shares a room with Luigi, who cooks and cleans for him in a quasi-spousal way, like Thomas Mitchell looking after Cary Grant in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. (Maybe it's unfair to make this analogy, since Hawks' film looks like backlot hokum next to Clouzot.) Mario leaves Luigi for Jo because he thinks Jo may be the key to a way out. Jo and Luigi square off in the bar, western-style, over Mario--I'm not sure I've seen that in another film--and Jo uses his power to ruin Mario's date with the pretty Linda (Vera Clouzot). Mario and Luigi clearly prefer women, but they're almost in a prison setting; Jo seems to hate women; and Bimba (Peter van Eyck), the handsome fourth driver, tells Luigi he doesn't like women. The sexual politics of all this will probably be clearer to a contemporary viewer than to audiences back in 1953.

If I've concentrated on the first half of the film, that's because the visceral appeal of the second half needs less commentary. The acting, cinematography, and editing are at such a high level. Yves Montand is a handsome man with great star power, yet he's perfectly believable in this below proletarian role. The print TCM showed is excellent, presumably the one in the Criterion Collection. This would be a knockout at the film festival some year.

Some artists say everything, or almost everything, they want to say in one work, and THE WAGES OF FEAR feels this way to me. This isn't to knock Clouzot's other fine films, but to suggest that THE WAGES OF FEAR is more an ending than a beginning.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby charliechaplinfan » Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:43 pm

I love Clouzot even though I've only had chance to watch 3 of his films. My copy of Wages of Fear has a bad restoration, hopefully there is one out there that is better. I too was on hte edge of my seat all the way through. The first Clouzot film I saw was Les Diaboliques, he out Hitchcocked Hitchcock here, I didn't see what was coming at all, loved the whole atomosphere, Le Corbeau is also a great film with many layers to it.

What a good idea for a thread, looking forward to reading what others have to say.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby MikeBSG » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:43 am

I was very taken with "Quai des Orfevres," which kept surprising me with the twists and turns of its plot. It is a film I wouldn't mind seeing again.

"Le Corbeau" was also good but didn't affect me that strongly. Perhaps because it has been copied so much? Also, I became distracted by some similarities between it and Val Lewton's "the "leopard Man," which also came out in 1943.

I think "Wages of Fear" is terrific, although the first time I saw it, I didn't like it. It turns out that what I saw (in 1979) was one of the original American release prints of "Wages of Fear," in which scenes critical of the oil company were cut, the gay implications were cut, and the ending was cut so it looked as if the last driver survived. I remember one guy in the audience being very angry with the theater owner, and I never figured out why until I saw the full version of the movie several years later.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby Sweeney Todd » Fri Nov 02, 2012 4:43 pm

I also love Clouzot's "L'assassin habite au 21", adapted, like "Quai des Orfèvres", from a novel by the Belgian writer Stanislas-André Steeman. The cast is great too, with Pierre Fresnay, Suzy Delair, Noël Roquevert, Pierre Larquey and Jean Tissier. The same Steeman novel was later filmed in Argentina by Carlos Hugo Christensen as "La muerte camina en la lluvia".
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby charliechaplinfan » Sat Nov 03, 2012 4:43 pm

I wish more of his movies had been made available in Britain, what I've seen I've really enjoyed.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby RedRiver » Mon Nov 05, 2012 4:43 pm

I even like William Friedkin's SORCERER. Directly borrowed from "Wages," though the Clouzot fim is better.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby JackFavell » Fri Nov 16, 2012 4:43 pm

I'm here to give my deposition.....

Quai des Orfevres - well I have no words. I simply loved this movie. I'd like to go back and watch it again.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby JackFavell » Sat Nov 17, 2012 4:43 am

What I love about Clouzot is how his worlds are so dense! The milieu is fascinating and seems to go on forever, even when we stop watching it - you know the boys school in Diabolique is still running on fumes even if Nicole and Madame Delasalle aren't there. We know the theatre and it's smoky environs are still pumping out burlesque shows, one after the other all day long even when we've followed Dora or Maurice out of there.

In contrast, Brignon's house, though richly beautiful, is completely dead. We know it even before we've entered the front door. The windows are dark and blank when seen from the outside in the establishing shot. As we enter, the rooms are unearthly quiet and ghastly dark - silent and heavy with nothingness. I suspect they would have seemed dead even if Brignon was not, lol. He was like a walking zombie, a salacious old gent who somehow reminded me of Dick Van Dyke's old banker in Mary Poppins.

I also love how evocative Clouzot is of the war. He doesn't pull his punches in this respect... there is something so real about his films, so corrupt and poverty stricken. The women are too skinny, people wear their coats inside where we can still see their breath. The black market is not just prevalent, it's a way of life for everyone, so much so that no one even thinks about hiding it. His war torn France is a window into a hard time, very moving, but also very picturesque.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby RedRiver » Sat Nov 17, 2012 4:43 pm

Your comment reminds me of something odd. I'm reading an Agatha Christie book, copyrighted 1942. And there's no mention of the war! You'd think that would be on everybody's lips. Could be, she wrote the book a few years earlier.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby JackFavell » Sat Nov 17, 2012 4:43 pm

I think it surprised me in the Clouzot movie only because many films after the war are seriously avoiding the subject - escapism in it's purist form. There are a few, some of the ghostly ones, and the noirs, that definitely deal with wartime losses, but they aren't bold and brazen about the hardships brought on by the war. I think most filmmakers were living in fantasy, wanting to get back to something lush.

Quai des Orfevres, well, the whole film just seems to be informed by the war and everything that went along with it. It's almost a social treatise on what an upheaval war is for the occupied and bombed out. There is a feeling of ruin and desperation still in the air, of teeming life that has sprung up around the edges of things, making a living off of hardship. Society is getting back to normal, but normal is and has been folks openly dealing with the black market, artists trying to scrape out a living painting erotic pictures for rich old men, burlesque shows packed to the rafters with lusty audiences and bored backstage personnel, and police informants hanging around the station as if they were the policemen's best friends. It's Depression, or deprivation on a every day scale, sort of like the feel of Night and the City or Pickup on South Street except it's pointedly obvious that the people have gotten used to scrimping and rationing and living sordidly due to wartime conditions. Cross one of those happy musicals from Hollywood with neorealism, and you've got the feel of the film. There's no attempt to hide disposession, or to cover it up, it's a fact of life, even 2 years after the war.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby CineMaven » Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:43 am

:-) I'm glad you liked the movie, Jaxxx. :-) Your post definitely paints a picture of the world that shapes this story. Do you have a favorite scene or character(s) in the movie?
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby CineMaven » Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:43 am

Image
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby charliechaplinfan » Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:43 am

It's a great movie, Wendy, I loved your review :D
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby JackFavell » Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:43 am

I haven't even gotten started!

First of all, Maven, what is that captivating avatar? Jane Greer maybe?

I don't know that I have a favorite scene, it kind of washed over me in flashes. Probably the one that took the movie into greatness for me was the one that made me gasp aloud - when Inspector Antoine says to Dora, "You and me, we're two of a kind. When it comes to women we'll never have a chance."

!!!!!!!!!

What I noticed, well, it started with the first scene with Simone, who is photographing Jenny Lamour. The scene starts in a blinding light flashed directly at the camera... then Simone quickly adjust the bulb away from the audience as the camera pulls back to reveal the photo shoot. "WHOA." I said, "Incroyable! How daring."

I loved all the side angles (I mean the camera work but also in the story). Following Maurice through the theatre, we swing from the audience to the wings to the backstage, seamlessly and with such panache, we feel as though we work there and have been there everyday for months. Clouzet makes us so familiar with the milieu that we don't even realize that the plot is being set up, suspense is being built, and his fluid camera never distracts from the emotional and rather sweet love story told. This movie is full of red herrings actually, but they are never blatant. We are foiled in our expectations every time, thanks to some deft writing and film techniques.

I was charmed at Jenny and Maurice's love, opposites really do attract, and I was relieved that Jenny was such a great heartfelt heroine rather than a femme fatale, even though she was set up as the latter. Her big emotional eyes, brimming with tears or anger, were always so expressive and childlike. I loved being fooled into thinking Dora was in love with Maurice. I loved the very tender disappointment on Antoine's face when his boy flunked geometry. I loved that Maurice was so ugly, both in features and in personality, I could even see WHY he was the way he was - he's the lowest on the rung at the theatre, madly in love with it's star, and nothing will dissuade him of his jealousy, even his own wife's protests. It propels his every action. I loved that Antoine's sad love affair was never alluded to, we are left to draw our own conclusions. I loved how grotesque some of the film is, like walking into a bestiary, except that it remains realistic; in fact, this movie defies categorization - it encompasses a lot of different genres. I wasn't even sure where to post my review! It's got touches of neorealism, surrealism, expressionism, the avant garde. There's even a little of Rene Clair. It's a police procedural, a noir film, a suspense film, and a musical, not to mention a love story. It's about good people, really good people dealing with a massively corrupt society...tainted by it. I liked how happy the theatre people were, doing their jobs, making things run night after night, even though it was cheap and sleazy and Jenny was the best thing about it.

I liked how foolish everyone was. So human.
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Re: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Postby RedRiver » Sun Nov 18, 2012 4:43 pm

I don't know that I have a favorite scene, it kind of washed over me in flashes

Some of the best movies are like that. It's hard to say exactly what stands out about it. But the whole package is so smooth. MAlTESE FALCON is like that. It just flies by, each scene nudging the previous one out of the way. CITY LIGHTS does too, though it does have certain moments that blow me away.
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