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'L'Enfer d'Henri Georges Clouzot' is one of those documentaries, like
Fulton and Pepe's 'Lost in La Mancha,' about a movie that never got
finished. This one concerns a film of 1964. Not a suspense thriller
like the director's famous 'Wages of Fear' (1953) or 'Diabolique'
(1955), which gained him art-house notoriety in the States and made him
seem a French competitor of Hitchcock, or his earlier detective meller
masterpiece 'Quai des Orfevres' (1947), 'Inferno' ('L'Enfer') was a
psychological study of jealousy, with Serge Reggiani as stricken
husband Marcel and the young, but already stellar, Romi Schneider as
his too-pretty, flirtatious wife, Odette (references to Proust?). But
things got too complicated and the movie never happened.
In 1994, Claude Chabrol did his film of 'Inferno,' having purchased the script from Clouzot's widow, Inez. In both cases, the essence of the tale is that the hotel owner's suspicions lead to paranoid delusions that overpower him. But Chabrol represents one of the primary Cahiers du Cinema branch of the French Nouvelle Vague, which was at its peak during the period of Clouzot's ascendancy, but represented new, freer, more inventive ways of working in film.
Clouzot on the contrary was old school, and was particularly noted for writing and story-boarding everything out ahead of time in the most scrupulous detail, as well as for working actors too hard. His 'Inferno' was to have been highly inventive in one respect, at least: he shot reams of experimental, "op-art" and prismatic lens shots, even creating "optical coitus" with spinning geometry and a zoom lens, as well as on-location reverse color images, planning visual equivalents of the Reggiani character's growing madness. The latest techniques were used, though the concept seems rather more like the surrealism of the Forties and Fifties than something new.
Still, there's no way of knowing how well the film would have turned out. What is clear is that those experimental shoots took too long, and ate up funds as well as time. When it went beyond pure optical illusion in the studio and more and more required the participation of Reggiani and Schneider, the shooting, much of it extraneous to the script, began to strain the stars. Clouzot was a chronic insomniac and would wake crew members at two a.m. with new ideas. He made Reggiani spend an entire day running, shooting the same sequence over and over and exhausting him. Reggiani walked off the set, pleading a mysterious illness, and never came back. Jean-Louis Tritignant was called in to interview as a replacement, but that didn't work out. Shortly later Clouzot, then 56, had a heart attack. That was it. Clouzot only made one more film, La Prisonniere, and died in 1977, aged 70.
Because the film wasn't finished, all the "preuves" were kept, and this film is interesting and unique for its lavish sampling of the experimental footage in which day-glo images spiral hypnotically or Marcek or his (imagined?) rival's faces merge, or Reggiani's or Schneider's faces are distorted as in a fun house. There's also detailed footage showing work to use color reversal to make the lake of the setting turn red when Marcel sees Odette water-skiing with Martineau (Jean-Claude Bercq), the local womanizer with whom she apparently has a fling.
The trick as Bomberg, a specialist in cinematic history and film restoration, told it in a NYFF Q&A, was to get hold of the 185 cans of footage controlled by Clouzot's second wife, Inez. Getting caught in a stalled elevator for two hours with her convinced her that her experience with Bomberg was "special" enough to give him the rights she'd denied to many others, and she also passed the completed documentary, without cuts.
The 'Inferno' footage is largely without sound, though there are test recordings of Reggiani uttering mad repetitious ravings as the wacked-out Marcel. Bomberg uses voice-overs to reconstruct some scenes of the film, and introduces five short scenes in which contemporary actors Berenice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin read from the script, to extrapolate.
Though it's all a bit after-the-fact, and the value of the Clouzot film remains moot, the documentary has interviews with nine cast and crew members, including Catherine Allegret, then-production assistant Costa Gavras and assistant cinematographer William Lubtchansky. Details of the breakdown emerge, and it's due to Clouzot's employing three separate film crews unaware of each other's activities, and his endless re-shooting of simple sequences. As one talking head points out, the film might have gotten made if Clouzot hadn't been writer, director, and producer. A real producer might have speeded things up, thus saving everybody's nerves and the production.
This is a glossy, beautifully crafted MK2 production and is a must-see for film buffs, particularly those interested in French cinema history. However as 'Variety' reviewer Todd McCarthy points out, important context is omitted in the failure to mention Clouzot's being out of commission throughout the Thirties in sanatoriums for mental problems. Maybe the widow wouldn't have wanted his lack of mental balance to be further discussed.
McCarthy is also right that the dominant image you come away with is the radiant and obviously cooperative young Romi Schneider. Dany Carrel as "Marylou" is another pert sex kitten in the cast who shows off plenty for the camera. It's puzzling that in the Q&A the flamboyant but otherwise informative Bomberg (so chatty he who was reluctant to relinquish the mike both before and after the NYFF public screening), never once mentioned co-director Ruxandra Medrea. Anyway, this is a rich and evocative piece of cinematic documentation.
Shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009. Also featured at Cannes, Toronto, Vancouver, and the London Film Festival. To open in France November 11, 2009
Okay, this is an insiders' movie for the die-hards, but it works for
The director presumably got the idea when he got stuck with Clouzot's widow in an elevator - he even thanks the elevator for its technical failure in the credits.
What do we learn? Overall, we learn about flawed genius, about how unlimited budgets can send a brilliant director off-track. we learn about how far actors will go to satisfy their director's requirements.
What do we see? First, being born in 1964, the year the movie was filmed, I loved the stilted, post-industrial surroundings at the lake and the hotel were the film was supposed to be set. I loved the costumes, the modernity and became totally nostalgic (to going back to being a baby, I suppose). Romy... Does it add anything we haven't seen from her? Perhaps not, but it sure is nice and especially to see her with Serge Reggiani who only makes her beauty shine more.
Does it work as a documentary? Yes, very well, in my humble opinion. The director does not ask (irrelevant) questions, but he simply presents the material and gives us an insight that perhaps, there was more than Clouzot's seizure to halt filming. He uses beautiful background music to make-up for the missing soundtrack. The dialogues read by two really good actors: well, perhaps it was a bit contrite, but I was thinking all the time that one of the things that would have been quite mediocre had the film been completed, would have been that: the dialogues were flat, boring and superficial (but the actors read them well).
My friend asked me: how many movies are there about a movie. Lots, but yesterday evening I could not think of one. But this is more, this is a documentary about a movie about failing to make a movie.
Presuming that you have not yet seen it, here is a description.
Henri-Georges was a remarkable filmmaker. Though contemporary with those normally tagged new wave, he was interested not in ideas but the effectiveness of cinema. His special talent was internal perturbations of reality. After a long period of silence, he embarked on his most ambitious project: a film about a jealous man, showing his torture through practically achieved cinematic effects.
He got a huge budget from Hollywood and lavished it on the film, not on sets, costumes, actors. Much was shot, and then the thing unraveled, largely because of the filmmaker's own obsessions. Production halted.
Later, in 2009, this film was made about the making of the previous one, weaving the movie and the making of the movie together. The format is superficially simple: we have seated interviews with people who were involved, while relevant footage runs behind them. We see much of that footage without the original sound, though some slight, small effects have been added. Most of the footage are strange optical experiments. Some is the action in "reality." We also, separately, have two contemporary actors reading the lines from the shooting script so at least we know the story such as it is.
The result is remarkable. As collaborators, one after the other, testify to the growing madness of Clouzot, or apparent madness. Or perhaps genius. It is effective as a documentary, perhaps unique in its form. It merges fiction and non-fiction, story on story, folded so that it matters. The main actor walks off, the filmmaker has a heart attack, the lake on which filming occurs literally disappears. Trains come. Anxieties mount as loves and the obsession to create clash.
We wonder about projects started but unseen from Welles, Hopper, Kurosawa. Like unimagined dreams we might reach, they perhaps have more power without us encountering them. Frankly, I never heard of this failed project before. I am grateful to have encountered it now, in this way.
Unfortunately, you may find the optical effects strange, dated. They all are "real" in the sense of being generated according to physical laws and properties. These days, we normally denote the unreal by effects done virtually and supposedly unconstrained by reality. So the shock is reverse: the film we are examining (in black and white) is the fiction, while the madness within that film (in color) is real.
"You have to see the madness through," is the last line of this. Clouzot could not. Let's hope you, dear reader, do.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
Documentaries rarely come more fascinating than this. Clouzot's lost
masterpiece, abandoned when the director suffered a heart attack during
the interminable shooting of it. The interviews with Catherine
Allégret, Costa Gavras and other participants in Clouzot's project are
informative, particularly on the subject of the experimental sound
track and the innovations in use of film stock that turned water red.
But it is the human drama, not the technological wizardry that
fascinates here. Clouzot simply took on too much: writing, directing
and producing, as well as overseeing all aspects of casting, music, art
direction... The American studio gave him too much money and power for
this project, and this almost destroyed him.
Jacques Gamblin and Bérénice Bejo take over the parts Reggiani and Schneider played, and they flesh out the story well enough. (See Cluzet and Béart in Chabrol's remake for a really great experience.) I went to see the footage with Romy Schneider, and I wasn't disappointed. She was the most beautiful of European actresses, and Clouzot's camera adores her. Romy smoking, Romy with a blue tongue, Romy trussed naked on a train track, Romy being followed through the town by Reggiani. Rest assured, I will be getting the DVD.
A most interesting film surrounding the making of Clouzot's unfinished, Inferno. Abandoned in 1964 ostensibly due to the director's heart attack, a substantial amount of filming remains and much use has been made of the original footage. Intended as a film about a husband's obsessive jealousy over his wife's apparent philandering, it seems Clouzot became himself obsessed. The b/w footage appears to have some promise but is without soundtrack so hard to judge, but no the real interest here is the experimental reels. Determined to make a film like no other, Clouzot recruited any number of technicians and artists to help create devices to give him surreal or psychedelic affects. Along the way the director has clearly fallen for the lovely Romy Schneider who for instance spent four days with a camera close up on her lips whilst exhaling cigarette smoke and wearing various colours of lipstick, including blue. Valuable as an insight into the attempted making of Inferno but a little frustrating in that it asks more questions than it answers, like the true mental state of the director and why nobody else might have carried on. It is possible that a lot was left out here because Clouzot's widow was to have last say on the film but it would be nice to know and maybe someone else one day will have another go, there seems enough footage.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are several valid reasons for wanting to see this film, not least the unshown footage of Romy Schneider who had the lead role opposite Serge Reggiani, add to that a film written and directed - in so far as it went - by Henri-George Clouzot, reminiscences of the shoot by the likes of Catherine Allegret and assorted technicians, the roping in of Jacques Gamblin to flesh out (via reading) some of Reggiani's scenes and what's not to like. The film was doomed from the start. Clouzot was a changed person and thought nothing of waking the crew at 3 a.m. to discuss an idea. Reggiani finally ankled on the grounds that enough is enough and was replaced by Jean-Louis Trintignant who never got on set because Clouzot suffered a heart attack and the film was closed down. It remains fascinating for any French film buff, especially when you throw into the mix the fact that Clouzot's widow, Ines, sold the script to Chabrol who went ahead and shot it. Old School versus New Wave. It's no contest and this fragment eclipses every movie that Godard ever shot.
This is not legend ,this is fact:HG Clouzot was one of the most
important French directors of all time .He is the sole Frenchie who
enjoys two movies in the IMDb top 250 and that means something for
someone who worked before (and a bit) beyond the N.V.
The New Wave was one of the reason why HG Clouzot tackled a work which finally almost killed him.He was trashed by the Young Turks and he wanted to prove them that he too was able to produce creative innovative movies.Actually he had nothing to prove for,although he made only eleven movies and a half ,all of those movies (but one :"Miquette Et Sa Mère" ) were stunning achievements ."Manon" ,for instance,was anything but conventional or academic,transferring a novel from the eighteenth century to the Liberation in 1944."Les Espions" was so ahead of its time nobody in France understood it when it was released .His overlooked short from "Retour A La Vie" predated such works as "death and the maiden" by forty years .And I do not even mention his well-known -and sometimes more praised abroad than in his native country- "Corbeau" "Diaboliques "and "Salaire De La Peur" ,all classics everywhere.
The Nouvelle Vague could do nothing but put this genius down ;he represented all that they hated : elaborate screenplays,tyrannical actors direction(Serge Reggiani ,who,however ,had worked with "La Clouze" in "Manon" (1949)called it a day after some exhausting weeks and was replaced by Trintignant who reportedly did not do anything), skillful treatment of pictures :like Hitchcock ,he intensively used storyboards (with incredible results:"Reggiani under the bridge" has something downright disturbing) "L'Enfer" ,which was to be the follow-up to "la Vérité" ,was intended as something new ,at least in its form ,for as a voice over tells us ,the story is trite :jealousy is a hackneyed subject which had been treated many times ,notably brilliantly by Luis Bunuel ("El").Reality would be filmed in austere black and white -all Clouzot's movies but two are in B&W- whereas phantasms would be given the color treatment ;although the story was filmed on location in Auvergne ,the pictures were to be re-worked in the studio .And some of them are particularly impressive .Romy Schneider was perhaps never filmed as she was in this movie,in scenes which were risqué for 1963 :tied naked to the rails while a train is a coming,fooling around (in her husband's mind) with all the men around and even her best friend (Dany Carrel) -homosexuality was not a new subject for HGC :there was a lesbian in "Quai Des Orfèvres" (1947).
"L'Enfer" became really "L'Enfer" .HGC 's ambitions were finally too much for him (and his actors;HGC was not a nice director to be directed by:in her memoirs "La Nostalgie N'Est Plus Ce Qu'Elle Etait " ,Simone Signoret wrote "I had a rough time of it " about "Les Diaboliques" ) and he gave up.
Some of the innovations were used in the follow-up "La Prisonnière " (which was his final work in 1968) particularly in the scenes in Laurent Terzieff's apartment and in Elisabeth Wiener's psychedelic visions (not unlike those of Keir Dullea in "2001").
It was 1994 before Claude Chabrol made a movie based on HGC's screenplay.Of course his work was not what Clouzot intended to do (how could it?)but it was faithful to its spirit and generally looked upon as one of Chabrol's finest achievements.
Like this? try this.....
"Carnet De Naufrage" ,a documentary depicting the movie "La Fleur De L'Age "(1947).Marcel Carné was never able to see it through.Intended to be the follow up to "Les Portes De La Nuit" ,it was never finished and put an end to the Carné/Prévert collaboration.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cinema is tough, there are probably thousands of projects that were as
ambitious as "Citizen Kane" or "2001: A Space Odyssey", but we'll never
know because they never made it to posterity and a loss can only be
measured on the basis of its previous existence. Still, the chronicle
of a failed project can be as insightful and inspirational as a success
story. And this where begins "L'Enfer", the revolutionary masterpiece
Henri-George Clouzot never made.
Now, there is a man who nourishes an interest toward the oddest kind of movie: the lost ones. His name is Serge Bromberg, and I discovered him in the middle of the 90's when he hosted a TV cartoon show named "Cellulo", where I discovered "Flip the Frog" "La Linea" and the UPA cartoons. Now, Bromberg is the head of a firm named Lobster, specialized in the restoration of lost movies or those affected by the passing of time. And the facts are alarming: almost half the cinematic memory is lost.
But Bromberg managed to conquer kilometers of lost celluloid. Not only some old Keaton and Chaplin movies were found and restored, but also some old Hitchcock movies from the silent years and the early 30's. And for having discovered such gems as "Juno and the Paycock", "Downhill" or "Mary", I needed to start the review by giving Bromberg the credit he deserves, for a work that doesn't just apply to lost movies but also lost footage. And I just loved the way a simple phone call to Clouzot's widow lead to this great documentary. I won't spoil it but how she finally agreed with the project gives its full meaning to the notion of 'elevator pitch'.
And a few years after this encounter, images that have been shut from the public eye for four decades were finally shown, punctuated with interventions from the crew and the recreation of some scenes with Bérénice Béjo and Jacques Gamblin, replacing Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani. And the enigma is less in the failure of the project than in Clouzot himself, the most classic and critically acclaimed French director whose "Quai des Orfevres", "Wages of Fear" and "Diaboliques", leveraged his reputation as a Master of Thrills, to the stature of Hitchcock.
And like Hitchcok, Clouzot was a craftsman whose directing relied on rigorous preparations and technical skills, and when improvisations and experimental creativity were the norm, Clouzot was perceived as old-school cinema. So ego-tickled Clouzot wanted to beat the New Wave surfers on their field, using 60's psychedelic visuals, electronic pop-music and so many unlikely choices from a director born with the century. Hitch said it better "self-plagiarizing is style" so in this statement, lies the early indicator of a predictable defeat.
Indeed, "L'Enfer" had everything to succeed: the director's reputation, distributions rights from Columbia Pictures, the stars, and the most devoted team of assistants but if a ship can navigate in the fog, it can't do without a compass. That the project would be interrupted after three weeks of filming should be a school-case for aspiring directors. Passion is crucial but you got to have a clear vision of your project. Clouzot was too busy to think of the 'effects'. It's called the 'dreamer' syndrome.
Indeed, Clouzot wanted to make a movie about a jealous husband and shows from his standpoint the obsession escalating until it culminates in mirror effects or use of colors and sound editing you would expect from a 60's directing student. The found footage of the film shows many of these tricks used on the face of Schneider and Reggiani, with the colors reminding of the use of psychedelic effects in Kubrick's "2001" but Clouzot got so wrapped up in his desire to make something new, that he forgot to make something substantial.
And Clouzot got so carried away by his own aesthetic ambitions that he spent countless hours of sheer experimentation, constantly delaying the production. For a scene where Reggiani watches his wife water-skiing, the blue of the lake had to turn into red to sustain the image of blood, but he couldn't reverse colors without affecting the skins and dress' colors, so he had to use make-up and dress in opposite colors to keep the effect believable, and everyone played the game, confident that this was going somewhere. Basically, the documentary chronicles the erosion of this confidence.
And it seems as Clouzot's assets: money, total control, independence acted as double-edged swords, alienating every day a little more, from the assistants, to the actors. Ironically, the material of the story could have garnered half the means and be shot in less than eight weeks, ironically again; films like "Quai des Orfèvres" or "Wages of Fear" that called for a more meticulous filmmaking were perfectly handled. Yet Clouzot's obsession for expressionist symbolism clouded his abilities, call it, delusions of grandeur, in the end, the Emperor wasn't naked, there was no Emperor at all.
I'm tough on Clouzot but let's take an example, Martin Scorsese, with much simpler effects, made the greatest portrayal of obsessive jealousy ever, the film was "Raging Bull", and it didn't rely on any chromatic stunt. Clouzot could have made a 'Raging Bull', but instead he chose the artistic way, giving such a rough ride to Reggiani he left the set calling him schizophrenic. By that time, the project was in agony until Clouzot's stroke put the final nail in the coffin. In 1968, Clouzot made "Woman in Chains", his final film with a more moderate (if not disconcerting) use of psychedelic effect, and a good one, but "L'Enfer" was dead.
And Bromberg's documentary is, like the autopsy, one that less revived the film than the soul of Clouzot (who died in 1977), as if the story of the making was more fascinating than the story itself, and Bromberg had the best way to summarize the spirit of his work, quoting "Liberty Valance", when reality becomes legend, print the legend.
I'm a great admirer of Serge Bromberg. He is a man who will share and
communicate his love for movies. But he is first and foremost a film
collector, so he has too much respect for shelved and forgotten
material, which I reckon is good to explain you how some rare silent
newsreel is interesting, or to teach younger generations the importance
of Meliès in pushing cinema beyond the mundane recording of live
Any movie buff will admire the work of Clouzot, so the pitfall was too much respect for a doomed project. There is very little insight about the unfinished movie. The answer comes late in the documentary, by that time we would have guessed by ourselves with all the clues, with all the experimentation and all the images and talk isolating Clouzot from the production reality. Sure Clouzot badly needed some kind of associate, be it a producer and/or a writer. In short, as a creative mind with lots of responsibilities he needed a sparing partner for his ideas. Someone who would stay focused and help sober Clouzot after an experimental binge. But everybody respected Clouzot as a genius, or feared him, and they didn't feel they could understand him, let alone speak up to him.
Now this is the main point with L'Enfer, and should have been the heart of the documentary. Instead we have a flat chronological montage of a prologue + prep + shoot. Such an approach would be OK for a 25min. runtime, but it's way overblown to 90min. Sure there were plenty rushes, fascinating images. The real homage would have been to tell a story with these images, inventing a context, not scholarly laying out the facts. At least the book Romy dans l'Enfer is much better since it chooses one approach, the one that stands out in all the presumably exhausting experimental work of Clouzot.
This, apparently, is a film where you gain prestige by saying you like
it, thereby associating yourself with the great insane folk of the
past, always a sure way to build cred. In my view, if someone has to
tell you that someone is (or was) great, they probably don't know what
they are talking about. If your greatness is limited to a time or
place, you're not great. Sorry, but that's the way it is.
In this case, the emperor has no clothes.
Half of the audience I saw this with could not bear to sit through it to the end, and like Serge and Jean-Louis, they simply walked out. If that was the desired effect, then the filmmakers did great -- at failing.
This film didn't know whether it wanted to tell the story IN the film, or the story OF the film, so it tried to do both, thus failing at both. You've got footage mixed in with experiment mixed in with interviews mixed in with acting, and then there's a soundtrack which we're told didn't exist.
What I liked most about the film was the experimental footage, but even that got old rather quickly. There's only so long a person can be dazzled by the idea of rotating a light about someone's face in different colours. We get it already. To be fair, there are a number of other quite interesting shots, including for some reason a sea of noses, and a sparkly cellophane strangulation.
I do hope to one day see the 1994 L'enfer, which was adapted from the 1964 failure. It currently has a 7.0 score on IMDb, so I hope it will be time well spent.
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