Inferno (2009) | Documenting Henri-Georges Clouzot’s all-consuming passion
French director Henri-Georges Clouzot is best-known for his critically-acclaimed suspense films, Le Corbeau, Les Diaboliques (which inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho) and Wages of Fear. But by the mid-1960s, as cinema took a step to the left ‘Bank’ with the rise of the French New Wave, Clouzot and his thrillers were dismissed as old hat (which was pretty weird considering how much young bloods like Truffaut and Godard admired Hitchcock’s Psycho). But owing to his international reputation, Clouzot got a blank cheque from US studio Columbia to make any projected he wanted.
Set in a lakeside resort in Auvergne, 1964’s L’enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot (aka Inferno) was to be a sun-scorched elucidation on the dark depths of jealousy with Romy Schneider (famous for the 1950’s Sissi period dramas) playing the harassed wife of a controlling hotel manager (The Leopard‘s Serge Reggiani).
But the production – which involved three crews and 150 technicians – was cursed from the outset. Reggiani fell ill and had to be replaced, the crew suffered badly from a July heatwave, the lake they were using as a location was about to be drained for a hydroelectric project and Clouzot suffered a heart attack. After three weeks, the film was shut down…
But that’s not the end of the story as Clouzot had one more film in him – and it was a beauty. After getting the all-clear from his doctors and finishing a number of TV documentaries, Clouzot filmed La Prisonnière (1968), which incorporated stylistic elements from the aborted L’enfer.
Having just seen the new 4k restoration at a special screening in London, I can safely say this final work is Clouzot’s finest (and I shall be writing about that at length soon). But it would not have been possible without L’enfer – whose surviving footage forms the bases of this César Award-winning 2009 documentary.
Thirty years after Clouzot’s death in 1977, his widow, Inès de Gonzalez, found herself trapped in a lift with film-maker Serge Bromberg, during which time he learned that Inès had 185 cans of film (about 15 hours) of the unfinished film.
Entrusted with the material, Bromberg and fellow film-maker Ruxandra Medrea used selected bits of the expressionistic original rushes, screen tests, and on-location footage to reconstruct Clouzot’s original vision, while also shedding light on the ill-fated endeavour through interviews, dramatisations of unfilmed scenes, and Clouzot’s own notes.
The result is quite dramatic, especially as it puts a spotlight on the notoriously meticulous director who became increasingly alienated and paranoid (especially with his cast) as his dream project became an all-consuming passion – much like the Arabian Nights animation, The Thief and the Cobbler, the 30-years-in-the making but never finished project which took over the life of Richard Williams (and became the subject of the must-see 2012 documentary The Persistence of Vision).
The Arrow Academy release includes a HD Blu-ray presentation of the documentary, with original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, optional English subtitles, and the following extra…
• Lucy Mazdon on Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French cinema expert and academic talks at length about the films of Clouzot and the troubled production of Inferno
• They Saw Inferno, a featurette including unseen material, providing further insight into the production of Inferno
• Introduction and interview with Serge Bromberg
• Stills gallery
• Original trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing on the film by Ginette Vincendeau