REVIEW: DVD Release: Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno

Film: Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno
Release date: 12th April 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 100 mins
Director: Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea
Starring: Romy Schneider, Serge Reggiani, Bérénice Bejo, Jacques Gamblin
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Park Circus
Format: DVD
Country: France

185 film reels hidden in silence for forty-six years - these constitute the cinematic treasure Inferno (L’Enfer) that remained trapped in the abysses of forgetfulness for almost half a century, before being dug up by Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea in 2005.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno sees the documentary makers return to a film whose production was stopped after only three weeks of shooting, leaving many questions unanswered.

The original plot of Inferno records a couple of newlyweds - Marcel Prieur (Serge Reggiani), and his younger wife Odette (Romy Schneider) - who have just moved to the French countryside to take over a hotel.

The life of Marcel turns gradually into a night-and-day nightmare when he becomes suspicious about his very attractive wife cheating on him, with the local hunk Martineau or with her friend Marylou. As he starts to follow Odette, his mistrust towards her grows into distrust, which ultimately rots to the point of blurring his perception of reality tremendously…

In this framework, the film Inferno tracks the descent into hell of a man whose pathological jealousy leads him to madness. The film does not contain anything remarkable on this level. Nevertheless, the genius of some directors – like Henri-Georges Clouzot – stands out in the alchemy to transform an ordinary story into a masterpiece in the history of the seventh art…

To quickly put the film in context, it is important to mention that Henri-Georges Clouzot was renowned in France and beyond its borders thanks to the thrillers Wages Of Fear (Le Salaire de la Peur) in 1953, Diabolique (Les Diaboliques) in 1955, or La Verite – starring Brigitte Bardot – in 1960. Inferno would mark his comeback after four challenging years in his personal life spent away from the public eye. It would be as well a means to express his resistance to the ever-critical New Wave tendency for improvisation.

In actual fact, the core of the documentary – and its main interest – lies in the primary resources, such as the selection of camera tests and visual shootings chosen from the fifteen-hour reels. “Inferno for Clouzot was the determination to make another kind of filmmaking.” In order to seize the experience of neurosis, the director explored kinetic art and colours to transpose it into visual experimentations (“optical coitus”), which would eventually depict an accurate representation of his imagination. These precious images unveil Romy Schneider as Odette Prieur – the centre of attention of Henri-Georges Clouzot and Marcel Prieur respectively – like nobody has ever seen her before. Most people remember the actress as Sissi (1955), but if Inferno had been released, the realm of Bavaria and the rest of the world would have been seriously shaken by the sequences. Furthermore, we can make a hint at the test recordings, from music to voices, and especially Clouzot’s when interpreting scripts. All these parts tend to prove the minutiae of his filmmaking method, and to call our attention to pay him solemn respect. Ultimately, the director Serge Bromberg, as an omniscient narrator, reveals stories behind the camera, and notably for the reasons why the artistic perfectionism of Henri-Georges Clouzot would lead to a dead end.

Original scenes with corresponding dialogue are spread out throughout the film, interspersed with interviews, re-enactments, and also extracts of scriptless pictures. It opens with an interview of Clouzot, in which he explains the motives that led him to the genesis of Inferno, and his aspiration to capture the darkest depths of neurosis, through Marcel’s eyes. He would make it happen on the screen with the finesse of a meticulous surgeon, by dissecting this ambition according to different key components – visual and audio in particular. As a consequence, the series of interviews of prominent staff on duty then allows the audience to catch the spirit behind each experiment conducted, and to discover the titanic works implied and realised for the sake of Clouzot’s visionary art, as well as it reveals the general atmosphere and the individual moods. Then, because all the film cans discovered are soundless, Serge Bromberg added a personal touch by inputting the participation of Berenice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin to complete the missing audio elements. Firstly, their voices are used to dub Odette and Marcel Prieur; and then, interestingly, they are filmed reading some scripts in a dark and empty space, with no mise-en-scène at all. These bland pictures absolutely contrast with the richness and the quality of the original ones; nevertheless, it is a useful strategy to keep the viewer focused on Clouzot’s work.

Blomberg and Medrea succeed to make the viewer fantasise about what Clouzot did, but also said: “Le cinéma est une invention permanente (cinema is an endless invention).” MCR

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