Clouzot’s Inferno (L’enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot; 2009; Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea) is an informative, warts-and-all documentary covering the legendary and controversial French film director Henri-Georges Clouzot and his great (or infamous) unfinished, nearly fatal film, aptly titled L’enfer (Inferno).
Clouzot is best known for directing The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, as well as one of my favorites, 1943’s Le Corbeau.
In 1964, the director was given carte blanche by Columbia Pictures, and with it, he hired sexy then-international-superstar Romy Schneider to star in an epic, almost experimental film exploring a husband’s jealousy.
But long before production was shut down by Clouzot’s non-fatal heart attack, the film had lost its way:
Clouzot never seemed sure of what he wanted, and reshot and tinkered endlessly, to the great frustration of cast and crew—many of whom stood around for days waiting for instructions.
Reality was to be filmed in exquisite and crisp B&W, with a smooth, gliding camera; while the husband’s fugues of jealousy would be in bright, vibrant color, often altered in the lab—and it seems like the director went nuts with his optical experiments.
Very influenced by OpArt, I think they’re wonderfully hallucinatory. And it doesn’t hurt that Romy Schneider is a stone fox, mrow! But he really did go overboard—
However, if I still had access to video editingequipment, I would cut together all of Romy’s scenes of psychedelica, and project it on a wall at a party.
Interviewing the surviving crew members (some of whom are quite critical), and using some of the 13 hours of footage Clouzot shot, documentary-makers Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea have not only reconstructed (as best they could) Clouzot’s planned film (in an abbreviated form), but the making of said film as well.
As the parallel stories unspool, the cinematic husband’s increasingly paranoid and dangerous jealousy is matched by Clouzot’s indecisiveness.
By the documentary’s conclusion, you believe that Clouzot only had himself to blame: Since he was the producer, there was no one to tell him “No.”
And with all the bloated self-important megabucks ego projects that do get to the screen, it’s even more infuriating that Clouzot never even got around to shooting the entire script—my point being that had he done at least that, then he could’ve dickered about until he had his coronary, and then somebody could’ve cut together something.
Sort of what happened with Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut (heh-heh; Freudian slip there: while typing this, my fingers “unconsciously” typed “Eyes Wide Shit”—nope, I’ve watched the flick again, and while the thing is beautiful and technical perfect—gosh, those sets are amazing—and I “get” the script, and for the most part, the actors are good, especially sexy Nicole (in what’s essentially a cameo) and sinister Sydney Pollack (filling in for Harvey Keitel—who’d already shot some scenes, but had to spilt because of schedule conflicts), but I deffo cannot stand Tommy C.’s perf. It makes me grind my teeth. He’s just trying too hard, he’s really obvious. And if that’s what Stanley wants, fine. But I don’t like that decision.
But what’s interesting is that both Clouzot and Kubrick got disastrously, even fatally, tangled up in monstro-productions about a fundamentally weak man’s suspicious jealousy about his beautiful, loving, basically perfect wife.
It’s like the male characters in the film gave back to their creators an obsessiveness bordering on mania, but in spades. And it gave both of them heart attacks, killing K. and derailing C.’s career.
(And didn’t Preston Sturges’ uber-creepy jealous husband story, Unfaithfully Yours, wreck his career in Hollywood? Look at Albert Brooks’ Modern Romance (1981)—sure, it’s got a cult following, even Stanley Kubrick was a fan—but it was a big flop! Yeeeeesh! Gents, stay away from these movies about jealousy—they’ll ruin ya!)
If you’re a fan of the Henri-Georges Clouzot’s work as I am, this documentary is a must-see.
Clouzot’s Inferno is a cautionary tale: the director’s experiments created some beautiful and hypnotic, often surreal images—no one could forget the almost unrelentingly erotic moments of Romy Schneider water-skiing in slow motion—but what good does it do anyone if the flick isn’t finished and sits in a closet for 50 years?