21 April, 2009
Henri-Georges Clouzot was a French film director, screenwriter and producer.
Clouzot was born in Niort, Deux-Sèvres. After studying classics at university, he first attempted to make his living as a journalist. However, in the 1930s, he worked as supervisor for a dubbing film company in Berlin, where he was exposed to the groundbreaking camerawork of the German cinema of the time. On his return to France, he began to work on film scripts, and then made his directorial debut with L'assassin habite au 21 (1942), which starred Pierre Fresnay and Suzy Delair. The film was made for the Continental Film Company, which had been set up in the occupied part of France at the behest of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels intended the company to produce pure entertainment, in the hope of keeping French moviegoers content (Hollywood films were banned under the occupation).
Clouzot's next film for Continental, Le Corbeau (1943), also starred Pierre Fresnay alongside popular leading lady Ginette Leclerc. The movie is a noir thriller concerning a spate of poison pen letters in a small French town. Critics have seen this as a comment on life under the occupation, where denunciations were common. After the liberation in 1944, the film became the subject of controversy as to whether it was a subtle work of resistance or an act of collaboration; either way, the film defied Continental's remit for making films with limited intellectual content. Because of the scandal, Clouzot was temporarily suspended from his professional activities in 1945. When he returned to film directing, he won several awards at the Venice Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival with Quai des orfèvres (1947), Manon (1949), and Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages of Fear) (1952), all of which were also very popular with audiences.
Clouzot had a pessimistic view of society, as is shown in later films. These include Les Diaboliques (1954), a macabre thriller which presents an ambivalent and ambiguous pair of women, played by Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot, who both appear to be plotting the murder of a sadistic headmaster (Paul Meurisse), the lover of the first and the husband of the second; Le Mystère Picasso (1956), a documentary on the method of the painter and the birth of few of his paintings; and La Vérité (1960), a drama starring Brigitte Bardot.
Henri-Georges Clouzot died in Paris on January 12, 1977.