The Raven

Overview

Few movies have had as contentious a relationship with social reality and history -- as in, who writes it, and with what agenda -- as Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau (1943). A superb, fearless melodrama about a small French town beset by a plague of poison-pen letters and the destructive fuel they provide to the rumor mill, Clouzot's film was made during the Nazi occupation, a situation that made every action and cultural statement suspect from every corner. Resistance or collaboration? Often, the distinction ...
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Overview

Few movies have had as contentious a relationship with social reality and history -- as in, who writes it, and with what agenda -- as Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau (1943). A superb, fearless melodrama about a small French town beset by a plague of poison-pen letters and the destructive fuel they provide to the rumor mill, Clouzot's film was made during the Nazi occupation, a situation that made every action and cultural statement suspect from every corner. Resistance or collaboration? Often, the distinction was not clear. Le Corbeau (The Raven) laid into provincial pettiness and presented a witch-hunt scenario wherein the innocent pay for the mob's madness. Upon the film's release, institutions ranging from the Catholic Church to the Nazi-erected Vichy government to the Resistance press to the Communist party were offended by the movie's implications and publicly decried it. Is Clouzot's film a masked critique of generalized, oppressive social power or an indictment of French collaborationism? Could it have been both? Centered on a rather recalcitrant doctor (Pierre Fresnay), who is not a native of the town in question and who quickly gets fed up with its citizens' skullduggery, the movie feels modest relative to the hubbub it caused, but its teeth are indisputably sharp. The message is everything -- more than just a mystery (who is the letter-writing "Raven"?), the story, because of its wartime context, necessarily locates its ultimate meaning in the puzzle's final solution. But even then, it's a Rorschach blot to be debated, because the answer is emotional, not political. Having been made for Continental Films, the Goebbels-designed company that controlled French film production during the war, Clouzot's movie could be seen as either an act of spectacular subversion or an artifact of prosecutable cooperation. (A terrific primer on the ethical conflicts inherent in working for Continental is the 2001 Bertrand Tavernier film Safe Conduct, in which Le Corbeau's controversy is a minor thread.) The greatness and significance of Le Corbeau resides in neither a black or white interpretive j'accuse, but in the fact that Clouzot, in the humanistic tradition of Renoir, struggled toward the sympathetic, gray middle ground. Newly restored, translated, and transferred, Criterion's disc goes a long way toward explicating the historical tangle, by way of an interview with Tavernier, a 1975 French TV documentary about wartime moviemaking and Clouzot's career, and several texts, including two opposing articles from 1947 French newspapers regarding "l'affaire de le Corbeau."
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Special Features

New digital transfer, with restored image and sound; Video interview with director Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de Torchon); Excerpts from "The Story of French Cinema by Those Who Made It: Grand Illusions 1939-1942," a 1975 documentary featuring Henri-Georges Clouzot; Theatrical trailer; New and improved English subtitle translation; Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition; 16-page booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Alan Williams, author of "Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking," and two articles from a 1947 French newspaper that reveal the scandal and controversy behind "the Corbeau affair"
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
Le Corbeau is a stunning examination of paranoia, distrust, and human venality. Sporting a bleak world view that is typical of much of director Henri-Georges Clouzot, it's a film that is enormously effective as both an intriguing mystery and a statement on the human condition. Upon its initial release, Le Corbeau drew condemnation from all sides. Made under the Nazi occupation, French loyalists viewed it as collaborationist, while the Nazis correctly saw in it an unflattering parallel to their network of spies and informers. If anything, the Nazis' interpretation is the more correct as a political statement, but Clouzot's larger message is a social statement -- that there exists inside everyone a dark side that is dedicated to ruin and hatred, and that keeping it in check is the only way for humanity to survive. Reduced to its essence and put on paper in this manner, it sounds simpleminded; but Clouzot and co-writer Louis Chavance's talent bring it to bitter, powerful life on the screen. The rottenness underneath the society in the film almost oozes off of the screen, to tremendous effect. Yet, while the characters are dark of soul, they are not one-note people. They have conflicts and contrasts, especially leading character Germain. Clouzot also makes Le Corbeau an incredibly visual experience, with a rich use of stark blacks and whites, surprising angles including a shot from the p.o.v of a letter on the ground, and intriguing compositions. Especially noteworthy are the sequence in which one of the poison pen letters floats calmly to the ground in the middle of a church service, capturing the attention of one and all, and that in which a mob chases one of the suspects through the streets of town. The tension and the mystery that the director imparts to the film is astonishingly effective, and he's aided by a perfect cast. Pierre Fresnay is perhaps first among equals, but each one contributes to making Le Corbeau an amazing film.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 2/17/2004
  • UPC: 037429186022
  • Original Release: 1943
  • Rating:

  • Source: Criterion
  • Aspect Ratio: Pre-1954 Standard (1.33.1)
  • Presentation: Black & White
  • Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Language: Français
  • Time: 1:31:00
  • Format: DVD

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Pierre Fresnay Dr. Remy Germain
Pierre Larquey Dr. Michel Avorzet
Micheline Francey Laura Avorzet
Ginette Leclerc Denise Saillens
Jean Brochard M. Bonnevi
Noël Roquevert School Director Saillens
Louis Seigner Bertrand
Palau The Postmaster
Helena Manson Marie Corbin
Sylvie Mother of cancerous Francois
Antoine Balpêtré Dr. Delorme
Pierre Bertin The Sub-Prefect
Roger Blin Francois, the cancer patient
Delaitre Preacher
Jeanne Fusier-Gir The Small-Wear Dealer
Bernard Lancret Magistrate
Technical Credits
Henri-Georges Clouzot Director, Screenwriter
André Andrejew Production Designer, Set Decoration/Design
Tony Aubain Score Composer
Marguerite Beauge Editor
Louis Chavance Screenwriter
Nicolas Hayer Cinematographer
Herman Weinberg Editor
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Logos/Opening Credits [2:02]
2. A Small Town, Here or Elsewhere... [4:36]
3. "Always Squabbling" [2:26]
4. Denise [4:22]
5. The Raven Strikes [3:04]
6. The Post Office [3:52]
7. A Web of Slander and Lies [5:33]
8. Secret Meeting [1:37]
9. Dr. Germain, From Grenoble? [5:58]
10. "You're a Coward" [5:41]
11. Summoned to the Church [2:40]
12. The Suicide and Funeral of Bed #13 [5:36]
13. Mob Rule [2:14]
14. "As Stupid as That" [3:47]
15. Taking Out Insurance [4:04]
16. A Trap [3:28]
17. Dr. Monatte [6:18]
18. Graphology [1:58]
19. Love and Duty [2:25]
20. "So It's You..." [4:43]
21. Ink on the Fingers [5:04]
22. The Tragedy [3:22]
23. "Then It Must Be..." [3:32]
1. An Alliance of Forgetting [3:50]
2. Continental Films [5:13]
3. Censorship [2:50]
4. Clouzot's Direction [2:29]
5. Liberation [7:09]
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Menu

Side #1 --
   Play the Movie
   Chapters
   Color Bars
   Bertrand Tavernier Interview
      Play
      Index
   Excerpts From The Story of French Cinema by Those Who Made It
      Play
   Trailer
   Subtitles
      English Subtitles: On
      English Subtitles: Off
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