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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (2009)

We thought about going to see this oddity at the London Film Festival, but since we knew that there would be an extended series of showings at both the National Film Theatre and the ICA this month, we decided to wait for a less hectic time. Having now viewed it, I think I could have easily waited forever.

OK, that's being more than a little unfair, but it is the sort of viewing experience that is probably meant to be of intense interest to a dyed-in-the-wool film buff, but which is actually a little on the tedioso side. Back in 1964 Clouzot, the director responsible for such classics as "Wages of Fear" and "Les Diabolique" wrote a script about jealousy and obsession -- L'Enfer. He contracted stars de jour Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani for the leads and, blessed with an 'unlimited' budget from Columbia, he set about creating what he hoped to be his finest work. It would seem that there was a touch of the Kubricks about his perfectionism, shooting and reshooting many of the scenes. The net result is that Reggiani walked off the set never to return, and before Clouzot could draft in a new leading man, he succumbed to a heart attack.

An unlikely hero, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films in Paris, who has single-handedly been responsible for preserving thousands of endangered films, found that Clouzot's widow was sitting on some 185 cans of film, roughly 15 hours worth, and permission was given for him to create this documentary on the masterpiece that might have been, as "The Epic that Never Was" did for 'I Claudius'. Unfortunately the sound track is gone and he could only work with the silent footage with its loving closeups of Schneider and several scenes with modern actors reading lines from the shooting script. For all of the director's experimentation with distorted images inspired by op art and colour inversion for psychedelic images of his heroine, these self-indulgent distractions did not help the film to remotely near completion. It was not until 1994 that a version of "L'Enfer" made from Clouzot's original script and starring the delectable Emmanuelle Beart reached the screen.

However, it would seem to me that with 185 cans of raw material available, someone, some day might actually piece together a reasonable facsimile of the director's original vision -- and that might just be rather more interesting viewing.
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