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Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno
Time Out New York Project: Issue #772, July 15–21, 2010
Dirs. Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea. 2009. N/R. 102mins. In French, with subtitles. Documentary.
Known primarily on these shores for his marital murder mystery Diabolique (1955), director Henri-Georges Clouzot set out to explore another kind of wedded nonbliss in 1964’s aborted Inferno. The cast included ravishing ingenue Romy Schneider and Clouzot chum Serge Reggiani as a newly married couple — proprietors of a lakeside hotel — whose relationship is put through the wringer. A large number of behind-the-scenes disasters resulted in 185 cans of unedited negatives (image only, no soundtrack exists), which remained out of sight until the early aughts. It was then that Clouzot’s widow released them to the codirectors of this frequently tantalizing, if featherweight, documentary reconstruction.
The glimpses of the unfinished movie itself are the main attraction, especially the hallucinatory color footage that Clouzot shot of his cast before the start of principal photography. These visually distorted asides were to be incorporated into the black-and-white real-world sequences to emphasize Reggiani’s twisted view of his wife’s supposed infidelity. Yet as they stand, they’re pieces of a puzzle that can never be finished. The film’s attempt to collate the existing material into a cohesive narrative whole — alongside some talking-head interviews with Clouzot’s collaborators and workshoplike performances of unfilmed scenes — never comes off as anything other than superficial guesswork. All spade, no soul.—Keith Uhlich