Corbeau, Le by stdepue


									“Le Corbeau,” (“The Raven”), (1943),is a dark, black and white suspense film, a classic
of French cinema, made by that master of the thriller Henri-Georges Clouzot, known
worldwide for the two thrillers he made later, LES DIABOLIQUES, and WAGES OF
FEAR. And, remarkably enough, it was made during the World War II German
occupation of France, under the Vichy regime, when all French films were supposed to
be light, dreamy and uplifting. THE RAVEN, a tight 91 minute crime drama/mystery,
was anything but, controversial from its release. Some French hated it, considered it
treasonous in wartime because of the bad light into which it threw the country’s
bourgeoisie. But it also delivers a strong anti- informer message; so the right wing Vichy
government hated it, too. Not because a single German was shown doing anything bad;
there’s not a German to be seen in this film. But because the occupying Germans got
most of their information from informants.

 A French provincial town, in the occupied sector, is driven into a frenzy of recrimination
via a series of anonymous, cryptic and damning poison pen letters sent by “Le Corbeau,”
“The Raven.” The suspicion and hard feelings hidden by the residents of the town,
beneath the community's surface, are exposed, to the detriment of all. The Raven’s
principal target is an aloof village doctor, le docteur Remy Germain, who is played by
Pierre Fresnay, (CESAR, MARIUS) then a big French theatrical star. He is carrying on
some joyless sexual affairs, one with the town schoo l master’s crippled, spinster,
promiscuous sister, Denise Saillens, played by Ginette Leclerc; and one with Laura
Vorzet, played by Micheline Francey, the beautiful, much younger wife of one of the
town’s most prominent citizens, the psychiatrist Michel Vorzet (Pierre Larquay). And
Germain will do abortions. The film also treats drug addiction in a matter of fact way,
obviously making it a target of the religious Catholic, and the right wing. Residents of
the village are unable to guess the identity of the Raven for the longest time, though
current-day readers should have no trouble doing so; at one point the townsmen suspect
Laura’s sister, Marie Corbin, a waspish hospital nurse, played by Helena Manson.

The film boasts some remarkable, moody work with shadows throughout. And a few
knockout suspenseful scenes: one of Nurse Corbin fleeing through the town as she
attempts to evade arrest. And one of the funeral of one of the Raven’s victims, a suicide:
the Raven has placed a letter in one of the floral arrangements, and no villager will pick it
up, until a child finally does. And another of a letter floating down from the balcony
during a mass, in which the priest has attacked the misdeeds of the townsfolk as exposed
by the Raven. Once again, no one will touch the letter for the longest time: the
congregants hardly breathe. However, I admit to some difficulty in following the film,
perhaps because I was seeing something on the small screen that was meant for the large;
perhaps because I am not a member of the contemporaneous French film- going audience,
who might recognize the stars. At any rate, the film gives us four old women, when only
one is needed, and countless town officials in suits, so that I could not recognize many
characters: Clouzot must have given every unemployed French actor work. Mind you, I
could recognize the principal four women and three men. But in this regard, the film is
nothing like the director’s later works, DIABOLIQUE and WAGES OF FEAR, which
have only a small number of principal characters and are easily followed. The director
must have learned from his feedback as he went along. I also had great difficulty with
the most potentially interesting of the special features, an interview with Bertrand
Tavernier,( COUP DE TORCHON, D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER), a fine French
director. Not only is he speaking heavily-French accented English; I also think he might
have suffered a stroke prior to this interview. He was very hard to understand, and I
couldn’t catch most of what he said: I wish there had been subtitles.

However, I could make out the gist of Tavernier’s argument. After the war, Clouzot was
considered a German collaborator, because he made this picture for a company called
Continental Films that had German, as well as French money, involved. He was initially
barred by the French government from ever making films again. However, such
outstanding French cultural figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir wrote in
his defense, pointing out his important anti- informer message in wartime. The
suspension was eventually made for only two years, enabling Clouzot to give us his great
later films. Well, I did have some difficulty with this film, but it’s worth a look as one of
the director’s influential early works, with his characteristic misanthropy, and wit, and a
focus on the interdependency of good and evil.

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