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."