BAMPFA Student Committee Pick
Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Pierre Larquey, Micheline Francey,
Made while France was controlled by the Vichy regime, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s second film is a brilliantly nuanced thriller about an “epidemic” of guilt and suspicion. In “a village, here or elsewhere,” a rash of poison-pen letters surfaces, accusing the residents, and most particularly doctors at the local clinic, of philandering. Distrust mounts, accusations abound, and the accumulating letters spread their “domestic contagion” among high and low. The atmosphere in this petit noir is comically bleak as the town’s quaint decorum is revealed to be little more than a veneer over venality. Even Le corbeau’s principal character, a physician played by the dapper Pierre Fresnay, is tainted by his own failings, abdicating the moral center of a town in upheaval. The film was denounced by the Vichy government and the Resistance alike for its supposed affront to the national character, and Clouzot was banned from filmmaking upon the war’s end. Ironically, the Gestapo also condemned this charmingly caustic portrait of accusations gone wild, for giving snitching a bad name.