Monday, 27 September 2010



L'Enfer (Inferno) would have been a stylish, possibly over-stylised, psychological drama about obsession, pathological jealousy and adultery, by a top flight director with a major female lead (Romy Schneider), and kitted out with all manner of visual trickery - symbolic colour manipulation bordering on hallucinatory, weird lighting setups, special lenses providing split screen effects. Unfortunately, you can't actually see the movie because Henri-Georges Clouzot never finished it. All we have is the thirteen cans of footage shot before the production collapsed (though the project was eventually filmed by Claude Chabrol some 30 years later - and I've added that to my rental queue).

The trouble with Henri-Georges Clouzot is that every time I hear Clouzot, I think Clouseau, and I think of Peter Sellers falling over in an outrageous accent to a Henry Mancini soundtrack. But Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno is a documentary about the making and ultimate abandoning of L'Enfer: how what should have been a simple, very French drama about lust and jealousy (a married hotelier comes to suspect his wife of having a fling with the obviously caddish garage owner in the next village) spiralled into a production nightmare; how, with apparently unlimited funds and time, Clouzot spent weeks and weeks shooting tests of trippy lighting, moire patterns, coloured filters, in parts almost looking like some of Maurice Binder's more abstract Bond title sequences. How members of his three camera crews walked out in mid-shooting because Clouzot spent all his time with the first crew, leaving the others standing around with nothing to film; how ultimately his male lead, Serge Reggiani, also bailed after having to run for days on end behind the camera car.

It looks, from the evidence in the film and the recollections of numerous members of the crwe (including Costa-Gavras) that Clouzot needed a hands-on producer to keep the genius auteur on schedule and to stop him from obsessively reshooting footage of sequences that they'd already filmed. Instead, left to his own devices, the whole thing unravelled and they never finished the location work, and never got into the studio to shoot the interior studio scenes.

And that's a pity, because what footage has survived, looked terrific, and it's actually quite sad that the project was never completed. I'm not a Clouzot expert (clearly) but it could have been up there with Les Diaboliques. Some of those dialogue scenes are re-enacted by new actors in a plain studio; obviously the film was never scored but an effective underscore has been added for this documentary's purposes. Generally, I enjoyed it more than I expected, and there's a wealth of detail about the making of movies - a lot more than you get in the average "behind the scenes" publicity puff pieces included as bonus features on DVDs. Well worth seeing.


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