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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to a short interview with filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier in the French DVD-edition, the production company responsible for Le Corbeau was founded at the instigation of the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. It was supposed to produce unpolitical, uplifting" entertainment. And it functioned outside of the control and censorship authority of the collaborationist French Vichy regime. Somehow, with Le Corbeau director Georges Henri Coluzot succeeded in standing the company's original precept on its head, painting a dark and pessimistic picture of French society. The courage, daring (and foolhardiness?) of the makers of Le Corbeau is, I assume, beyond comprehension for a contemporary audience. Many French, not least the Resistance and the post war authorities, were offended by this portrayal. But, doesn't the title sequence say explicitly that it could have happened anywhere?
That is true, of course. The pastime of making slanderous remarks and general gossiping is an universal one. In Le Corbeau, set in a small provincial town where everybody knows everybody, almost no one and hardly any scandalous subject is spared. Virtually the whole community gets caught in this whirl of wild accusations and suspicions (I detected a certain resemblance with High Noon). It is beautiful how the director gets the message through that nobody is entirely good or entirely bad, culminating in a great scene where a primitive lamp is sent swinging back and forth, letting the shadows wander.
In this movie an anonymous writer sends letters to different people with wild accusations. Oddly, the big letters, the layout and even the short, catchy phrasing look like the prototype of a tabloid newspaper. The letters actually are hand made scandal sheets in an era when newspapers still were meant for fully literate people. One of the highlights of the movie is a funeral procession in which one of those letters falls from the horse drawn hearse. Due to its bold lettering it is immediately recognizable to everyone, but the mourners do not dare pick it up and wait until a curious child gets hold of it. Then they quickly gather around a wonderful scene.
Le Corbeau is a timeless movie that I can highly recommend.
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