Henri-Georges Clouzot directs Michel Auclair, Cécile Aubry and Serge Reggiani in this early French noir where a resistance fighter falls for a good time girl who strings him along in pursuit of a life of riches and immorality.
Strange little French thriller. It starts as a wartime romance and eventually becomes a near existential survival tale but in the main and in the middle it is a noir that avoids crime. Like I say… Strange. The central romance between the venal Manon and her naive suitor never solidifies. You certainly wouldn’t call it idyllic. The coquettish Cécile Aubry is a girly grifter but with just enough innocence for you to doubt her insincerity. No matter how beautiful she is, our sap protagonist (‘hero’ is definitely the wrong word) should check out after various first act alarm bells are rung. We find ourselves following an obssessed slave who must know in his heart of hearts he has been strung far far away from his resistance fighter ideals. Both by his amour and the urbane hustlers and predators she makes him fall in with. The sexual frankness and edging towards a moral oblivion recall what Hitchcock tried to do in his later career but struggled spectacularly to marry up to his long set in stone style. Then there’s the extended epilogue which openly references the plight of the Jewish refugees wading through the North African desert. So much sand is kicked up that is only tangentially related to what has gone before. It makes for a stark shocking finale that feels like it has arrived from a completely different movie. More Wages of Fear than Les Diaboliques. Personally I wish Clouzot focused on his pet themes of jealousy, kink and marital conspiracy. I know the other stuff here is iconic but it makes Manon way too unsettled a work to ever fully love.
Perfect Double Bill: Le Corbeau (1943)
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