Saturday, March 27, 2010

2009 - L'ENFER D'HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT, unfinished film about jealousy features blue lipstick and a slinky.

L'Enfer is a French documentary about the making and abandoning of Henri Georges Clouzot's 1964 film L'Enfer a film about a marriage that is destroyed by jealousy. L'Enfer falls into the category of "what might have been." This category includes films like Orson Welles's Don Quixote and The Other Side of the Wind, a Howard Hawks World War 2 propaganda film that was abandoned after about a week of shooting and Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Actually when you get right down to it just about any Orson Welles film after Chimes at Midnight is an unfinished film and there are a lot of them in his case.

Clouzot was considered an extremely important international director by the early 1960's. He had the reputation as the French Hitchcock although you could make the argument that Hitchcock was much more influenced by Clouzot than Clouzot ever was influenced by Hitchcock. About the only place Clouzot didn't get any love was from the French New Wave critics led by Truffaut and Goddard. They had always felt that his his style was to rigid and formalistic compared to their anything goes way of film making. This seemed to be a strange criticism to me as they all worshiped Hitchcock who was if anything just as meticulous in his film making technique as Clouzot. Determined to prove them wrong and working with almost unlimited budget Clouzot started what was to be his major artistic statement.

After carefully preparing his story with detailed sketches and storyboards, Clouzot hired some of the best French technicians behind the camera and most importantly in front of the camera, the actress Romy Schneider. Clouzot than took his actors and film crew into the studio to shoot a series of elaborate lighting, camera and makeup effects

Clearly Clouzot was infatuated with Romy Schneider, posing her in odd lighting combinations and trying out elaborate makeup effects, these tests apparently went on for weeks. How was he going to work this into his film?

After weeks of these preparations, Clouzot and crew went on location at a lake resort in France for four weeks of shooting before returning to the studio. Apparently everything started to fall to pieces. Filming was expected to go quickly and the necessity of wrapping up the location work was hastened because the lake was emptied every year to power a hydroelectric dam downstream.

Clouzot's visual scheme was to do a Wizard of Oz type of thing, filming the story of the husband's jealousy of his wife in black and white while intercutting it with fantasies or hallucinations of her in a type of erotic color combination.

On location Clouzot became obsessed with every part of the film making process. He supervised every detail of the crew's set preparations, he endlessly shot take after take, throwing out his careful schedule. Always a demanding director especially when it came to working with his actors, he pissed off his lead actor Serge Reggiani who called him a "nutcase" and ended up walking off of the set. Clouzot attempted to keep the film going while recasting the role of the husband. The whole mess finally came to an end when Clouzot suffered a heart attack while filming on the lake.

So would L'Enfer have been any good? I have no idea. Certainly the color tests and the striking treatment of Romy Schneider are extremely interesting to look at. The black and white footage shot on location is actually very stunning as is the lake resort setting. It seems to me that the actual story appears to be rather melodramatic and trite. Could this have explained Clouzot's odd behavior on location? When he started the actual filming of the picture did he see some weaknesses in the story that caused him to doubt himself? Could Clouzot have pulled it off? All that survives of this film are these very entertaining and bizarre color tests of Romy Schneider along with some interesting on location photography. And just exactly what in the hell was Clouzot going to do with that slinky?

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