Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner04/11/2009

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Worth seeing for its extraordinary experimental test footage alone, this is a fascinating documentary that offers a tantalising glimpse of the film that might have been but also serves as a cautionary tale of a project and director spiralling out of control.

What's it all about?
In 1964, legendary French director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Les Diaboliques, The Wages of Fear) received unlimited backing for his long-cherished dream project Inferno, a study of jealousy, starring Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani. However, as filming began, Clouzot became obsessed with taking the film in a new and unprecedented direction and began filming scene after scene of op-art-influenced, experimental test material (much of it featuring Schneider as a demonic temptress), the psycho-sexual nature of which was intended to convey Reggiani's character's disturbed state of mind.

As both director and film spiralled out of control, the project was eventually abandoned until, years later, a chance encounter with Clouzot's widow in a broken-down lift led restoration specialist Serge Bromberg (who co-directs with Ruxandra Medrea) to unearth 15 hours of previously unseen material. The film, sadly missing its soundtrack, was then painstakingly restored, with talking head contributions from surviving crew members and contemporary actors Berenice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin recreating key scenes between Schneider and Reggiani.

The Good
Aside from the disarmingly frank contributions from the various talking heads (including assistant director Costa Gavras), Bromberg and Medrea have assembled a tremendous amount of footage that includes rushes, test shots and a large number of completed scenes that hint at the greatness of the film that could have been. There's also an added sense of weirdness to some of the scenes because Clouzot had intended to use an innovative colour inversion technique for the fantasy sequences that required the actresses to wear pale make-up and blue lipstick.

The Great
The on-set tales and the restoration / recreation scenes would be amazing enough on their own but what makes the film really extraordinary is the wealth of astonishing test material that exerts a strange, hypnotic beauty. Highlights include a gorgeous shot of Romy Schneider letting smoke play over her face but there's an incredible scene with her sexily toying with a Slinky that's worth the price of admission alone.

Worth seeing?
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno is a brilliantly edited, genuinely fascinating and visually extraordinary film that's a must-see for film fans everywhere. Unmissable.

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Content updated: 16/12/2017 12:56

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