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A vicious series of poison-pen letters spreads rumours, suspicion and fear among the inhabitants of a small French town, and one after another, they turn on each other as their hidden secrets are unveiled - but the one secret that no-one can uncover is the identity of the letters' author... Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
Le Corbeau aka The Raven is a surprisingly vivid piece of film-making, a wonderfully cinematic dissection of a town torn apart by the poison-pen letters of 'The Raven.' The initial balance of power that maintains the status quo (A knows B's indiscretion, B knows A's, so neither can destroy the other without disgracing himself) is soon destroyed as the whole town learns each other's dirty linen, with suspicions, half-truths and outright lies soon lead to the town turning on each other in the search for a scapegoat. Tragedy, suicide and murder inevitably follow
This, of course, was the film that earned Clouzot a lasting reputation as a collaborator made for the infamous German Continental films, it was attacked by both the Nazis for discouraging the French from informing (their main source of information during the occupation) and the resistance for attacking the French moral character. Of the two, it's pretty obvious the Nazis were on the right track. Even though the Germans are conspicuous by their absence, it makes clear that the anonymous informer/s are undermining solidarity and making the town easy prey for predators (it is implicit in the film that the Raven is not the only poison-pen writer in the town as a veritable flock of Ravens emerge).
The suspense comes not from the Raven's identity, which is blindingly obvious in this era of double-endings but must have seemed groundbreaking at the time, but from what damage the Raven will do next. Blessed with a surprisingly unlikable hero and a frankness lacking in US and British films of the period abortion and drug-addiction are discussed as readily as adultery and embezzlement there is a somewhat awkward Catholic moral imposed at the end (the good doctor learns it is better to let a mother die in childbirth to save the child than vice versa because the future is more important than the past) but it's still refreshingly dark. The script establishes character, setting and guilty secrets with remarkable economy and the film is blessed with a great use of location and some visually impressive set pieces: the funeral where people step around a letter left by the Raven before a child picks it up or the huge church silenced by a single letter fluttering down from the gallery are particularly striking. It also has a biting black wit and an interesting discussion about the interdependent nature of good and evil.
A genuine masterpiece, and entertaining with it, the Criterion DVD boasts exceptionally good print quality - sharp and clear - with an interesting 18-minute interview with Bertran Tavernier on Continental and Clouzot and an interesting extract from a French documentary with Clouzot and others talking about the film and French cinema during the Nazi occupation.
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