Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Raven

"The Raven" aka "Le Corbeau" (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943) Made during the occupation of France by the Nazis, and released by a German production company, its director and crew came under attack after the liberation, and despite the film's popularity with the public, right and left wing factions both denounced the film and barred the participants from film-making for years.

As usual, the idealogues missed the point completely. Clouzot (the director of future classics, "Les Diaboliques" and "The Wages of Fear") made a movie about bearing false witness—a trademark of the German regime—and about hanging together, or hanging separately.

The plot revolves around the rather decadent life-styles of prominent physicians in a small French town. One by one, they receive anonymous "poison-pen letters" (signed only as "Le Corbeau" accusing them of adultery, abortions and all manner of poor behavior. They are outraged! Never mind that the accusations are, by and large, true! Who could be doing such an outrageous thing? Soon suspicions and speculations crop up about who might be the anonymous poster, and the learned citizens begin to turn on each other like a pack of wolves.

The emphasis is on psychological tension, as with Clouzot's finest films, and by the "Fin" card, enough damage has been done that there is no turning back. Character, or the lack of it, determines fate for good or not. And the complexity of the plot lends no easy answers, except for the complacent.

"Le Corbeau" has changed the French vernacular to mean, not only a raven or crow, but an anonymous letter-sender.

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