on 30 April 2010
This documentary about the aborted making of Henri-Georges Clouzot's ambitious and doomed film 'L'Enfer' in the early 1960s is completely riveting from start to finish. Bromberg apparently met Clouzot's widow in a broken down lift and on hearing tales about the unfinished film, immediately decided to investigate it. The result is the presentation of a series of scenes and tests filmed by Clouzot and unseen for decades, interspersed with interviews from the technicians who worked on the film.
'L'Enfer', as anyone who has seen Claude Chabrol's version of the script from 1994 will know, is a relentless, pessimistic drama of marital jealousy. What surprised me on seeing this documentary though was that Clouzot seemed to be planning to make the film a balance of realistic drama (in monochrome) and wild, experimental, often almost abstract dream-visions in colour and inverted colour. The examples of the colour experiments often look like miniature art films in their own right, and are perhaps even more jaw-dropping here than they would have been in the final cut of a finished film. With an unlimited budget, the possibilities were endless, which is one of the reasons the film production seemed to grind to a halt.
Anyone interested in film oddities, French cinema, experimental cinema, Clouzot's other works, and Romy Schneider's films will be drawn to this. It slao makes an interesting companion piece to 'Lost in La Mancha' about Terry Gilliam's collapsed Don Quixote project.
Highly recommended, the film comes with a near-hour long extra documentary which contains more footage and interviews. The picture quality is superb throughout.
on 7 June 2010
Obsessive creative film making by confirmed geniuses unhampered by financial constraints has always compelled my attention. Whether successful (Apocalypse Now) or failure (Day of the Locust), condemned (Riefenstahl's OLYMPIA) or downright weird (Jodorowsky's HOLY MOUNTAIN), these examples of hubris hold my attention and fill me with wonder. Imagine my delight that SERGE BROMBERG -my nominee for the most charming, amusing and useful Frenchman working in cinema today- has gotten hold of unfinished film by the great director Henri Georges Clouzot starring Romy Schneider featuring lots of experimental color and visual effects and psychological torture all around. Could that be the best thing ever? You bet your bootie! And you know what? It is!
Thank you Serge Bromberg! I love you!
I've become a big fan of Henri-Georges Clouzot's films this year, having never seen any of his films until only a few months ago when i bought a fantastic box-set containing the classics Quai Des Orfèvres, The Wages Of Fear, and Diabolique. And it was all thanks to the release of a new documentary by film historian Serge Bomberg, chronicling the making of his ill-fated movie L'Enfer.
In the mid 20th Century, Henri-Georges Clouzot could claim to be amongst the greatest filmmakers of his time, but the rise of the French new wave of filmmakers was a timely reminder to Clouzot to embark on a new film which would silence the young upstarts. Clouzot was one of the few directors of his time who could make whatever he wanted to, although it wasn't a Hollywood production as such, L'Enfer was backed by Columbia and he was given the green light to shoot whatever he wanted with an unlimited budget.
L'Enfer is a simple enough, a story of a married man's paranoid obsession with his wife's supposed infidelities. It wasn't a big production, 2 A-list leads in Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani were hired along with a small cast, shot on location, but Clouzot decided to expand upon the visual experiments he'd been working on with his crew. The documentary is filled with never-seen footage not only of the unfinished film, but various screen tests, and countless technical experiments. Clouzot wanted to create a new film language based on the sonic and visual art of the period, used to illustrate the husbands paranoid meltdown.
Many months were spent on sound and visual experiments, until eventually the actual production began. Clouzot experimented with 3 crews and he even enlisted the best directors available, when normally he'd shoot everything himself with his own crew. This caused great confusion, as Clouzot still wanted complete directorial control so at any moment there were always 2 sets of crews waiting to be instructed by him! Clouzot was known for exacting every inch out of his actors and it was the case with Schneider and Reggiani, the latter eventually left and never returned. In the end, Clouzot had a heart attack and the film was never completed.
So what could possibly have been one of the most dazzling films of all time will remain forever incomplete. Serge Bomberg is a restoration specialist, his preservation company Lobster Films holds more than 20,000 endangered films. Having access to about 15 hours of film footage, Bomberg painstakingly pieces together a wonderful documentary offering the audiences a glimpse of what might have been, and insights into why it all went wrong. Bomberg interviews collaborators on L'Enfer, such as actress Catherine Allégret and director Costa-Gavras who was an assistant on the film.
But what defines this documentary is not the reconstruction of the story or insights into why the production failed, but Clouzot's ambitious vision for his film by using artistic techniques such as such as op art and electro-acoustic music. He devised unique filming techniques such as colour inversion. Clouzot dazzles the viewer with psychedelic visions of the film's star Romy Schneider, in many unforgettable scenes including being coated in olive oil and glitter.
I'm not sure why Bomberg used scenes of contemporary actors performing key moments from the original film, it was unnecessary when the story of the film's demise and the existing footage kept you interested. The documentary has a wonderful jazz score to accompany the film, as the original shots never had any sound.
It's difficult not to think of other filmmakers who's films were plagued with problems, such as the infamous shooting of Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now', and Terry Gilliams doomed project 'Don Quixote' which he turned into the documentary 'Lost in La Mancha'. Clouzot was the undoing of his own film, in fact he was responsible for 3 other unfinished projects (not mentioned in the documentary) in his long career. He was a notorious insomniac, Clouzot would hound his crew in the early hours, who were all basically on call to do as he pleases. One of the film's collaborators mentioned he'd booked into a nearby hotel far enough so that he wouldn't be bothered by Clouzot!
We'll never know if the final cut would have been the new vision of film that Clouzot dreamed of, but thanks to this documentary its safe to say that L'Enfer would have looked like no other film ever made.
I saw two movies at the tail end of 2009, released a week apart in UK cinemas, both of which depicted something that might have shaped the history of entertainment but were doomed to never be. The first was Michael Jackson's This Is It, the second, fortunately for this review, was Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno. What were the chances of these two films having anything in common, let alone sharing something so integral to their being? For, despite the titles, neither Jacko nor Clouzot would get to present these features to us.
Kenny Ortega assembled enough fascinating footage to give us a hint of the, frankly unexpected, wonders that Jackson had in store if his heart had allowed it, but This Is It didn't work quite as it should have as a film in its own right. Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, on the other hand, have compiled something altogether more artful with H-GC's Inferno: part reconstruction, part documentary and part original. We have the making of Clouzot's ambitious film, L'Enfer, as told by those who were there (and others who weren't) and the reassembling of the original footage spliced with actors filling in the gaps with readings to give us something approaching the whole picture.
Unlike the King of Pop, Clouzot would survive the heart attack he suffered during the making of his potential masterpiece but the film would not. But would this psychological study of marital jealousy and descent into madness have been his masterpiece? As someone who has spent years believing Wages of Fear to be close to the pinnacle of cinema, the images seen here are, even today, startling in their scope and technique. Columbia's unlimited budget and Clouzot's unlimited imagination produced an unstoppable creative force. Or so it seemed until the film was indeed stopped in its tracks and abandoned incomplete. This status may have sealed its reputation but it could have been so much bigger if it had been completed. You will not feel inclined to argue after watching this DVD.
In 1994 Claude Chabrol took Clouzot's script and made his own version of L'Enfer (also known as Hell). It's by no means a poor film and absolutely worth investigation, but for purists it's like watching Usher perform Billie Jean, or watching William Friedkin's Sorcerer for that matter. Bromberg and Medrea's film returns the script to its rightful owner and this is as authoritative an account of the film and its production as we can realistically wish for.
Distributor Park Circus is a welcome newcomer to the DVD market. While not being able to match boutique US label Criterion in terms of packaging or bonus content, they share a common taste in film. H-GC's Inferno is exactly the kind of release I'd expect to be picked up by Criterion, but at the moment that is not the case. And Park Circus deserves praise for its bonus content, including an extra hour-long documentary called 'They Saw The inferno', which features additional unseen footage. The packaging is satisfying as well. It even comes in a very French Nouvelle Vague pink amaray case with good framing of the original poster image, although I'm not convinced by Park Circus's decision to opt for a uniform font for all their titles. Oh well, I'm hardy going to remove any of the fully deserved five stars for that. Chamone!