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Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (2009) Blu Ray (Arrow Academy)

A reconstruction of a failed film production

French director Henri-Georges Clouzot embarked on the task of shooting the film Inferno. This much-cherished personal project was his most ambitious to date, using three simultaneous crews and many experimental visual effects. For the lead roles, he brought together Romy Schneider - an Austrian actress who was one of the biggest film stars in France at the time - and the Italian actor Serge Reggiani. Unfortunately, a number of production challenges mounted up and the project remained unfinished.

In the film’s story Schneider and Reggiani play a married couple who run a lakeside hotel. The husband suspects his wife of having an affair with both another man (played by Jean-Claude Bercq) and a woman (played by Dany Carrel). Driven insane with jealousy, he starts to follow her around and experiences a plethora of bizarre visual episodes.

Serge Bromberg’s documentary attempts to both reconstruct the film as much as it is possible to do so as well as examining the circumstances which caused Clouzot’s labour of love to fail. It brings together some of the footage that was filmed (culled from the 185 cans of film reel that remained from its production) along with a series of interviews with various people who were either involved in the production or knew Clouzot personally. There are also several reconstructions of key dialogue scenes from the script featuring actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin.

Watch a trailer:

A glimpse into a great talent

Henri-Georges Clouzot was, without a doubt, one of the most talented and creative directors in the history of French cinema. Therefore, the prospect of taking a glimpse into what might have been his masterpiece is a tantalising one for filmmakers. The footage on display here is extraordinary, if rather unusual in the way in which it performs visual trickery with light sources, kaleidoscopic effects, inverted colours and more. Some complete sequences reconstructed here are truly eye-opening, one of the most notable being an extended episode where Reggiani’s character follows Schneider’s through village streets. Some (such as the aforementioned) were shot in black-and-white, others made truly striking use of colour.

However, while Bromberg does try hard to provide a snapshot of what Clouzot’s ultimate artistic vision may have been, some of the footage here simply comes across as baffling when removed from its intended context. This is particularly true when we see Romy Schneider and Dany Carrel wear blue lipstick which would have appeared red when the technique was used; Clouzot intended to utilise the effect to turn a lake blood-red and had to colour-coordinate his actors accordingly!

Bromberg is clearly more interested in this footage than he is in the background details over what went wrong with the production - and why wouldn’t he be? Like a child who has uncovered a treasure trove of new toys he peeks (and lets us peek) excitedly at what has been found. However, the intermittent interviews are fascinating in their own way as they detail the various complications and disasters that killed the project.

Director Clouzot put himself on the back foot right from the start by insisting on shooting at a specific lake which was about to get drained to facilitate the building of a new power station. This necessitated a tight shooting schedule which he was unable to keep up with - partially because he fussed endlessly over scenes and partially because he was ineffective at juggling the three different crew. His brusque manner and insistence on arduous working conditions caused friction with both Schneider and Reggiani, resulting in the latter suddenly leaving the shoot never to return. He was replaced by Jean-Louis Trintignant who also quickly made an abrupt departure. However, the director doggedly kept on filming until he suffered from a (perhaps inevitable) heart attack.

Some unanswered questions

As a documentary you can’t accuse Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno of being uninteresting. However, there’s a sense that it doesn’t quite delve as deeply into its subject as it could have done. We don’t get enough sense of the underlying motivations that might have driven Clouzot to make what appears to be (judging from what footage remains for us to see) such an extreme and out-there film. Inferno and Clouzot remain little more than tantalising enigmas here.

Runtime: 96 mins

Dir: Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea, Henri-Georges Clouzot (archive footage of Inferno)

Script: Serge Bromberg

Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Jacques Gamblin

Featuring archive footage of: Romy Schneider, Serge Reggiani, Dany Carrel, Jean-Claude Bercq, Henri-Georges Clouzot

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

The picture is immaculate and the colour footage, in particular, is retina-searingly beautiful. Sound-wise it’s smooth and clean.

Extras

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno Blu Ray

Lucy Mazdon on Henri-Georges Clouzot and Inferno

A fine accompaniment to the main documentary which helps to fill in some of its blanks. She describes his filmmaking style as being both poetic (having been influenced by the German Expressionist moment which he graduated from) and realist. She also points to his own obsessive tendencies, insomnia and the depression caused by the death of his wife amongst the motivators behind the making of this particular film.

They Saw Inferno

This featurette is more or less an hour of outtake footage for the main documentary. It goes further into detail around the technical aspects of creating those bizarre effects as well as discussing the various incidents that occurred during the fraught shoot. During the filming of one scene where Serge Reggiani was supposed to hit Dany Carrel on the butt (playfully) with a shoe he left her with a purple bruise, resulting in her hitting back at him with a high heel - causing him to bleed.

Interview with Serge Bromberg

An English-language interview with the documentary’s creator Serge Bromberg, who has an evident and highly infectious passion for his subject. He talks a little about how he tracked down the footage - which was apparently so well stored (under secrecy in a French film archive) that it didn’t need any restoration work. He also reveals that the funding came from the US company Columbia, who allowed Clouzot unlimited budget and creative freedom after a similar deal with Stanley Kubrick to make Dr. Strangelove turned out to be a great success.

An introduction by Serge Bromberg, trailer and stills gallery round out the extras.

Overall:

The extras here are quite weighty and add immeasurably to a beautiful but somewhat shallow documentary feature. The whole package is certainly worthwhile for Clouzot devotees. Non-initiates, however, would be better off starting with The Wages of Fear, Les Diaboliques and Arrow Academy’s recent release of The Mystery of Picasso before heading into this one.

Movie: ☆☆☆

Video: ☆☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

Extras: ☆☆☆☆

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