Copyright © 2012 by James Clark
Henri-Georges Clouzot was a most peculiar filmmaker who endured a most peculiar tenure. From out of an early career as a screenwriter and screenplay refurbisher, his full-scale productions strike me, at least, as written with brilliance and originality, and as attaining to management of mise en scene that is utterly masterful. And yet, what reputation he managed to evoke was that of a flashy entertainer, a French Hitchcock, and butt of disdain from the putative deep guys of the New Wave.
Thereby we are assured by film commentators and historians that in 1959 he was ordered to make a Brigitte Bardot movie and promptly whacked off the screenplay for what came to the public in 1960 as La Verite (Truth). His public image being what it was, no one at that time showed the temerity to credit Clouzot with the kind of fastidious foresight (also, come to think of it, seldom credited) demonstrated by Billy Wilder vis-à-vis Marilyn Monroe, in The Seven-Year Itch and Some Like It Hot.
The mundane-saturated emanations of Clouzot and Wilder came to look obsolete in light of the audacious and loudly heralded weirdness of films like Last Year at Marienbad, La Dolce Vita, L’Avventura and Breathless, all made at exactly the same time as La Vérité. It was apparently impossible to extend to Clouzot any credit for dealing with the same abysmal wildness his younger colleagues played to the hilt. (Fortuitously, a very recent and similarly head-turning film, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, dips into the specific ranges of those revered titles, in order to very overtly reactivate for ongoing consideration the verities contained within the watershed moment of high-octane sensuality. We have a tony [wedding] party from hell—replete with a quickie divorce—[a foregone profit centre for Fellini, Antonioni, Robbe-Grillet and Godard], at a fabulous mansion with stunning grounds [vide Marienbad and all those billionaires’ digs beloved by Fellini and Antonioni]. We have the loveless bride trashing the hosts’ collection of austere and game-changing Suprematist graphics and replacing them with art books showing Renaissance devotional items. We have a rogue planet looming to trash a planet the bride declares to be “evil,” and, in a spate of voodoo physics, also declares to be the only place in the universe with “life.” [“I know these things,” she modestly admits.] Happy to be headed for extinction, she musters a bit of chipper diversion for her sister and the latter’s son, on their well-tended grounds just before the crash. A preamble had shown them at ground zero where compromised gravity endowed all movements with the uncanny reverb their hearts could never elicit. Von Trier thereby posits with maximum [and heavily precedented] panache the blind and deadly plunge of world history [a sidelight of which consists of the droll conceit that official science—predicting a close but harmless encounter—has missed the point]. [The ending of A Serious Man is in this vein.] What he does not powerfully convey are resources on behalf of countering such gracelessness in face of matter’s eerily foreclosing on consciousness. His Dancer in the Dark, a marvellous bit of Demy-revival, does address this more rounded phenomenon; but his Breaking the Waves goes much farther, as I hope to make understandable two weeks from now. (more…)