Thursday, March 10, 2011

Henri-Georges Clouzot: Diabolique, The Wages of Fear

Today's quick picks serve a double duty.  These are fine picks for those looking for great foreign films that they haven't seen yet; these tend to be overlooked since they are more genre driven than art-house fare.  And these are also fine picks for those who are looking for a good suspense film; these might not come to mind immediately nor do they show up right away in genre browsing on Netflix. 

Diabolique (Henri-Georges Clouzot, France, 1954, 116 minutes)
Netflix: The ailing spouse (Véra Clouzot) and manhandled mistress (Simone Signoret) of a sadistic boarding school headmaster (Paul Meurisse) plan and execute the man's murder -- but their plan goes haywire when the corpse vanishes. Henri-Georges Clouzot directs his real-life wife in this icy, black-and-white masterwork of homicide and Grand Guignol suspense, which ranked No. 49 on the Bravo network's "100 Scariest Movie Moments." Netflix link.

It's hard to describe the "scary moment" mentioned above without spoilers, but it is safe to say that I was genuinely creeped-out by this film when I first saw it back when I was in my teens.  I don't want to go so far as to say "don't watch it alone" or any such nonsense, but it was a memorable viewing experience because I did watch it alone and was a little freaked out for a while afterward.  This messes with your head.  Robert Bloch, the author of the screenplay for Hitchcock's Psycho, cited Diabolique as his favorite horror film (though perhaps suspense thriller would be a better genre description).

The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, France, 1953, 148 minutes)
Netflix: An oil company enlists four destitute drifters -- Mario (Yves Montand), Luigi (Folco Lulli), Bimba (Peter Van Eyck) and Jo (Charles Vanel) -- for a dangerous mission transporting volatile explosives across Central America's treacherous terrain. Packed with nerve-racking tension that never lets up, director Henri-Georges Clouzot's gritty masterpiece took home the Grand Prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. Netflix link.

As recently as 2010, Empire Magazine ranked this at #9 in their list of The 100 Best Films of World Cinema. In his review Roger Ebert stated that "the film's extended suspense sequences deserve a place among the great stretches of cinema." The film was remade and Americanized much later with mixed results with William Friedkin's Sorcerer.  The Criterion website has two helpful essays on the film by Danny Perry and Dennis Lehane.

Le Corbeau (Henri-Georges Clouzot, France, 1943, 91 minutes)
Netflix: The shadowy writer known only as "Le Corbeau" drives a French provincial town -- via cryptic and damning letters -- into exposing the suspicion and hard feelings hidden beneath the community's surface. Made during the Nazi occupation of France, director Henri-Georges Clouzot's film was vilified by the right-wing Vichy regime and other groups. But writers such as Jean Cocteau recognized the powerful subtext to Clouzot's anti-Gestapo tale. Netflix link.

The great thing about doing this blog so far has been discovering many films that I need to see, and I have put this on my to-see list.  According to the Criterion website, this is currently out of print, so we all should try to watch it while it is still on Netflix (although it will probably be available again through the new Criterion-Hulu deal).  The film was controversial in part due to it being co-produced by a German production company, while at the same time many read it as a thinly veiled anti-Gestapo commentary.  Quentin Tarantino makes a reference to this controversy in Inglourious Basterds, when we see the cinema owner change her marquee to Le Corbeau (even though the film was banned in Occupied France).

No comments:

Post a Comment