Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clouzot in chains

La Prisonnière (Woman in Chains) - 1968

Henri-Georges Clouzot is best known for his thrillers The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. His lesser known works include Quai des Orfèvres and Le Corbeau. Each of these films is available on the Criterion collection label. But his least known films are close to impossible to find. One such films is La Prisonnière.

If you happened to have seen the documentary L'enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot you'll recall the amazing visuals that Clouzot used for the film L'enfer, which he never finished due to a heart attack and a loss of funds. What that documentary didn't tell viewers is that a few years later Clouzot directed La Prisonnière, which tells a somewhat similar story and extensively uses the cool experimental visual elements that made L'enfer seem so enticing.

The film deals with a young woman named Josée (Elisabeth Wiener) caught between Gilbert - her artist husband - and Stan - a gallery owner / photographer who she takes an interest in.
Gilbert produces intriguing optical illusion art, which are showing in Stan's gallery. Stan also takes S&M photos, which Josée [the suppressed housewife] finds herself drawn to both out of curiosity and an attraction to some odd element of humiliation. But too she has fallen in love with Stan. Only he is a rather creepy guy who takes more pleasure in voyeurism than he does in real human contact or emotions. This, of course, causes a problem in their relationship because she wants a warm loving man.

Gibert finds out about the relationship and goes to confront Stan. The story continues....

The strength of the film is the visual design, shot selection [shot by Andréas Winding] and editing [edited by Noëlle Balenci]. Clouzot plays up a mod avant-garde optical illusion aesthetic to the point that you could actually just start watching the film at any one scene and find it fascinating to look at. [Antonioni's Blow-Up comes to mind as a film that may have been influenced by this one].

Three scenes in particular stand out; one is an early scene in which Gilbert and Josée take a train and notice converging train tracks, high wires crisscrossing and various other visuals one can see from a movie train. The second scene is a gallery opening where every shot is designed to show off optical illusions on display and the third scene is a three-and-a-half minute montage toward the end of the film that encompasses visions, thoughts and experiences Josée has had up to that point as she lays in a hospital bed most likely spaced out on morphine.

Below is a link to that scene.
La prisonnière

In short, if you feel that a real opportunity was missed because L'enfer was never finished then rejoice because La Prisonnière more than makes up for it. The only problem is finding a copy. I managed to find a DVD at a local video store in Los Angeles [yes, they still have those.]


Bunched Undies said...

I've never heard of this film, but I seek out now for sure. Nicely done review.

Matt said...

Thanks. So many good films out there. This one can be found even if you have to pay a few bucks.