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  Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno Masterpiece Or Mess-terpiece?
Year: 2009
Director: Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea
Stars: Romy Schneider, Bérénice Bejo, Serge Reggiani, Jacques Gamblin, Dany Carrel, Jean-Claude Bercq, Mario David, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Gilbert Amy, Jacques Douy, Jean-Louis Ducarme, Costa Gavras, William Lubtchansky, Thi Lan Nguyen, Joël Stein, Bernard Stora
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: By chance, film archivist Serge Bromberg happened to meet the widow of one of France's greatest movie directors, Henri-Georges Clouzot, when they were trapped in a lift together. They got to talking, and she revealed that there were cans of footage in existence of a project called L'enfer that her husband never completed; Bromberg was immediately interested, and once he saw what those reels depicted, he worked out a documentary that would serve as a reconstruction of what Clouzot had in mind when he started it. Or rather, a construction, because the production was doomed from the start...

Not because Clouzot was unprofessional, but because his ambition at the height of the French New Wave was out of step with the times: here was a filmmaker of a far older generation trying to beat the younger ones at their own game through innovation, yet the unspoken theme of this is that he was too staid in his practices to keep up with them and so the man who was once a pioneer, known as the French Alfred Hitchcock, was defeated by the very medium he had contributed so much to. This means, as with all tales of films that were thwarted before completion, there's a sadness to the presentation of their blighted history.

Bromberg assembled all the crew members he could find who were still alive and placed them in front of his own camera, including respected director in his own right Costa-Gavras, and had them relate their memories of L'enfer, and he works up a fair idea of what it was like to be a part of the production as they reveal that Clouzot was a hard taskmaster and given to yelling when he wanted his way. He was an insomniac as well, which meant he would telephone members of his team at all hours of the night with fresh ideas, leaving them exhausted during the day when they were supposed to be at their brightest. With everyone feeling the strain and behind schedule, it was no surprise that something had to give.

Was this really such a great loss? From the archive clips we see, Clouzot was pushing back boundaries in how to fashion what was a fairly straightforward story of a husband's jealousy for his younger, more vibrant wife, and that was due to his representations of the husband's mania that arose from the situation. To this end the director shot many tests of what can best be described as experimental film, with camera trickery, lighting effects, and abstract imagery to spare, both in black and white and in colour, the latter looking like an early version of the psychedelic visuals that would arise closer to the end of the sixties - this was made in 1964, and those experimental scenes look ahead of their time and somehow apart from it.

For his star, Clouzot had secured the services of Romy Schneider, and on the evidence we see here when he wasn't shining coloured lights in her face he was sending her waterskiing for what seem like near-endless scenes. Schneider was still in the first flush of her popularity in France, but L'enfer looked to have been something that would have cast the actress in a different light (not just the kaleidoscopic kind), though it was not to be this time. Would the film have been a masterpiece? It's hard to tell, as while the arresting imagery is something to behold, it looks as if Clouzot was making it up as he went along, and there's a definite strain of misogyny to what plot we see as the husband (Serge Reggiani) grows to hate his wife, all of which might have made the end result somewhat hard to take. Bromberg did well to bring this to the screen in even its unfinished form, but it's a frustrating watch. Music by Bruno Alexiu.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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