Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Clouzot's Inferno

“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno” is a fascinating documentary about a movie that was never made.

In 1964, Henri-Georges Clouzot was a titan of French cinema, venerated for films like “The Wages of Fear” and “Diabolique." It had been four years since he had made a film, and Clouzot conceived an ambitious project — to be called “L’Enfer” — a story of sexual jealousy and psychological instability that would encompass an array of new and radical techniques.

Columbia Pictures greatly anticipated the film, promising “unlimited” support, with a sense that this would be a historic work. But as the production grew in scale Clouzot grew more demanding, more obsessive and harder to work with. The crew and cast grew restless and alienated, and Clouzot, who seemed to go mad himself, had a heart attack. The project came to a screeching halt and was never completed.

Serge Bromberg, the documentary's director and narrator, worked with Clouzot's widow to unearth 85 film cans containing some 15 hours of footage. There were some completed scenes and hours of tests that the meticulous director had conducted to assess everything from costumes to camera lenses to complicated optical effects. The images that have made it into the documentary are frequently beautiful, if sometimes bizarre, and give a tantalizing sense of what might have been while chronicling the disintegration of Clouzot and his epic.

“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno" plays at the Northwest Film Forum this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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