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The ink which makes blood flow.
on 2 March 2014
Le Corbeau is directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and co-written by Clouzot and Henri Chavance. It stars Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Pierre Larquey and Micheline Francey. Music is by Tony Aubin and cinematography by Nicolas Hayer.
We are in a small French town, the actual name of which is not known and is inconsequential. A series of poison pen letters are being sent out to the town dignitaries, accusing them of all sorts of inappropriate operations. The letters are signed by someone calling themselves Le Corbeau (The Raven), and pretty soon the town starts to implode as suspicion and mistrust runs wild.
Famously it was the film that saw Clouzot banned from making films, the then young director receiving flak from all quarters of the Vichy Government - Catholic Church - Left Wingers and others too! The asides to the Nazi occupation of France at the time not being acknowledged until some years later. That very theme obviously holds considerable weight, but it's not the be all and end all of Clouzot's magnificent movie.
Clouzot and Chavance tap into the troubling fallibility of the human race, portraying a town quickly submerged in moral decay. There is caustic observations on the higher echelons of society, a clinical deconstruction of a town quick to cast aspersions without thinking of consequences, while the script boasts frank intelligence and no fear of censorship. That a town so ripe in respected denizens could become so diseased, so quickly, makes for powerful viewing. All are guilty as well, nobody escapes, even the youngsters are liars or cheats, thieves or rumour spreaders, this be a Hades town where negativity runs rife and leads to broken bodies, broken souls and broken human spirits.
Very much a bastion of proto-noir cinema, it's photographed with an awareness to marry up to the acerbic thematic at work. Shadows feature prominently, even in daylight, canted angles are used to great effect, broken mirrors perfectly imbuing the fractures of the human psyche. A number of scenes are startlingly memorable, a funeral procession and a church service interrupted by one of The Raven's letters are superbly staged, the pursuit of a nurse through the cobbled streets is menacing, and the finale is hauntingly raw. Top performances across the board from the cast brings further rewards, whilst simultaneously adding more plaudits to Clouzot's direction. All in all, a remarkable, fascinating and potent piece of cinema. 9/10