La Vérité

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Feb 22, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


When the 1960s began, France was freshly engulfed in the New Wave, where numerous filmmakers, critics, and thinkers came out of the woodwork to engulf the nation (and eventually the world) in a cinematic revolution. While there were a handful of French filmmakers that would continue their success throughout this idealistic transformation and flourish as continued innovators of their craft, many prominent filmmakers began to trickle away as relics from the previous era, their films no longer appealing to the evolving audiences. One of these earlier masters was Henri-Georges Clouzot, who at the turn of the decade, was stuck in an odd sort of limbo. While his thrillers had garnered him international acclaim and box office, in his native France, his films were now lambasted by the instrumentally influential Cahiers du cinéma, arguably directly connected to the decline and collapse of the director’s career over the next decade.

Clouzot would go from giving audiences some of the best thrillers of all time to rebuking these same films, succumbing to the massive ripples that had overtaken French filmmaking. Though he would direct several television documentaries, attempt two more narrative projects (which were never officially finished), and write several more unproduced screenplays, his last theatrical film would be 1960’s La Vérité (The Truth) - and what a movie to have as your swan song.

Dominique Marceau (Brigitte Bardot) is a young and wild woman who is on trial for killing her lover, Gilbert Tellier (Sami Frey). While Maître Éparvier (Paul Meurisse) leads the prosecution’s push for the death penalty and contends that she acted through premeditated calculations, Marceau’s defense attorney Maître Guérin (Charles Vanel) assures the jury and the court that this was a violent act of passion that doesn’t warrant such a harsh penalty. We traipse the sequence of events leading up to the murder, from Marceau’s piggybacking onto her sister Annie’s (Marie-José Nat) move to Paris in order to pursue her freewheeling lifestyle, when and how Marceau met Tellier, and the sordid mess of affairs and conflicting lifestyles that marshall the characters to their various breaking points. Throughout the trial, Marceau is subjected to the moral pontificating of the lawyers and officials, seeming the lightning rod for the society’s collective raised nose and firm disdain.

The film is a biting indictment on the social hypocrisies of 1950s France, and the constant battle between the ideologies of previous and succeeding generations. However, what makes the film truly great is a complete lack of “hero” character canonization that is so readily common in 1940-1950s message cinema, Marceau is a complete and utter mess - there are numerous ideological and sociocultural controversies and paradoxes that snake their way throughout the story and not a single person is blameless or objective. The biases and personal motivations behind each testimony are laid bare against the truth actually shown to the audience, and its is left up to us to decide whether or not someone is justified in their actions. A cast of sublime actors propel the narrative from start to finish, brimming with chemistry and passion. While not one of the thrillers from which Clouzot would claim his highest fame, La Vérité is the standout of his whole filmography to his talents as a master cinematic craftsman - which makes the history surrounding the film all the more tragic.

The production of La Vérité is one of the most disaster-ridden shoots this side of Fitzcarraldo that I have yet come across. Besides multiple principal cast and crew being shuffled about via frequent firings, this was a set swimming with mental breakdowns, extramarital affairs, lawsuits, and multiple suicide attempts. Clouzot would also suffer a severe heart attack, with filming being halted for a week (which would become a recurring motif in later production attempts, as his health would continue to decline).

The film released in France in November of 1960 to rave reviews and massive box office, which was echoed in international markets, as it also caught on big in the United States, and fanned the country’s already-roaring obsession with the film’s leading actress Brigitte Bardot. Released stateside by the extraordinarily underappreciated Edward Kingsley through his Kingsley-International Pictures, La Vérité would tie Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film - Bergman would beat Clouzot at the 1961 Oscars in the same category.

The film would remain largely undistributed in the United States, though PAL and Region 2 DVDs have existed in Europe for a handful of years. The Criterion Collection has remedied this by releasing a new 4K digital restoration (with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack) of the film on Blu-ray. Alongside the stunningly restored movie, equipped with fresh English subtitles, the disc is loaded down with supplemental features. A 1960 and 1982 interview with Clouzot and Bardot, respectfully, add a unique flair to the passion and problems surrounding the movie, which collectively buttress Le scandale Clouzot, a fascinating feature-length documentary by Pierre-Henri Gibert about the mysteries and controversies surrounding Clouzot’s private and professional lives. This all is rounded out quite nicely by a lengthy essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, included in the case.

La Vérité is a gripping time capsule from one of the most exciting eras of filmmaking (and world) history, which remains one of the decade’s most enduring titles, and the greatest achievement in Clouzot’s filmic career.

(www.criterion.com/films/27913-la-v-rit)




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