The Inferno Unseen

France 1964


World Premiere

Barbican Centre Sunday 25 March 2017 16:30

Tickets here

Running time c. 60 minutes.

In partnership with Lobster Films and MUBI, we are proud to present a newly mastered cut of rushes created in 1964 in preparation for Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film Inferno, which was never finished. Together with his cinematographers Andréas Winding, Armand Thirard and Claure Renoir, Clouzot staged seemingly endless kinetic and optical experiments focusing primarily on actress Romy Schneider performing simple, seductive actions in carefully composed mises-en-scène. Departing from Serge Bromberg’s critically acclaimed documentary about the making of Clouzot’s film (2009), The Inferno Unseen focuses solely on Clouzot’s intoxicating visions, allowing them to build up their own momentum as they unfurl in all their glory.

Music by Rollo Smallcombe.

The newly mastered edit was created by Rollo Smallcombe and Marketa Uhlirova, and was co-produced by Marketa Uhlirova at Fashion in Film Festival, Kiri Inglis at MUBI, and Serge Bromberg and Maria Chiba at Lobster Films.

The edit exclusively features film rushes for Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished film Inferno (1964), left behind in 185 cans at the CNC Archive and re-discovered by Lobster Films in 2007.

With Romy Schneider, Serge Reggiani, Dany Carrel, Jean-Claude Bercq, Jacques Gamblin, Bernard Stora, Brigitte Bardot and others.

Cinematography by Andréas Winding, Armand Thirard and Claude Renoir.

Costumes by Jacques Fonteray.

The edit incorporates voice recordings of Serge Bromberg for Monocle’s podcast The Cinema Show (March 2017).

 

***

 

If finished, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s film Inferno would have told a story of extreme jealousy and obsession. The plot is simple – a hotel owner, Marcel (Serge Reggiani), begins to suffer from nightmarish visions in which his young wife Odette (Romy Schneider) appears in various lascivious poses and sometimes erotically interacts with another man. Marcel gradually descends into madness and may, in the end, be driven to kill his wife.

Generously backed by Columbia (via the French production company Orsay Films), Clouzot shot in black and white as well as in colour, employing three separate film crews, no less than 12 cameras, and a large number of technicians and film craftsmen, including some of the most established industry names of the time. For six months, three cameramen – Claude Renoir (who specialised in colour), Armand Thirard and Andréas Winding – shot seemingly endless studio tests and, in the final three weeks, also some scenes on location. Many of these were shot repetitively, in subtle variations across numerous takes, resulting in the twelve hours of footage that survive today and that contain no dialogue. Clouzot’s extravagant process reveals an unusual sense of freedom from budgetary constraints that would normally dictate strict planning, discipline and structure. Fuelled by an ambition to elevate cinema to the level of art, the making of Inferno turned into a prolonged and intense search for novel expressions in cinema.

Most of the footage was shot in the studio during the first six months, forming several distinct groups: an extensive set of wardrobe tests for the lead actors Schneider and Reggiani, and the key supporting actors Dany Carrel and Jean-Claude Bercq, which are largely in black and white, and range from full-body shots to close-ups. There are also several prolonged fabric and surface tests with greyscale and colour charts juxtaposed against various backgrounds, almost completely static. But ultimately, it is the kinetic and optical tests – Marcel’s delirious hallucinations and the effects they have on his psyche – that make up the bulk of the studio-shot material. They are also the most ground-breaking aspect of this project.

These ‘hallucinations’ display a remarkable range of visual experimentation. There are abstract explorations of changing shapes, colours and patterns, or dynamic phenomena (bubbling liquids, smoke), informed by contemporary avant-garde movements (Kinetic and Op Art) while also belonging to an older tradition of interwar avant-garde cinema. There are numerous eye-popping visions which treat the human face as raw photographic material to be manipulated – sometimes to the point of complete abstraction – through distortions, splicing, double exposures, mirroring, or kaleidoscopic multiplications. What is unique in Clouzot’s experiments is the extensive application of fluid light and colour effects onto the human face and body, as well as costume – especially Romy Schneider’s. Here the filmic and the sartorial unite to form striking visual effects, at once beautiful and haunting.

A large proportion of the surviving footage is effectively moving image portraits, primarily of Schneider. For the most part she is framed statically, posing against a range of backgrounds or in very rudimentary mise-en-scenes performing simple, seductive actions. In many ways, these portraits invite a comparison with Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, created around the same time. Although Clouzot’s intentions and working methods were very different from Warhol’s, he too was fascinated by the potential of a screen test – an otherwise rudimentary studio device used to determine an actor’s photogenic appeal – as a stand-alone study of ephemeral and sometimes involuntary gestures, with a unique, almost unsettling temporality. In focusing on moments of holding a pose, rather than acting, he too was exposing the person behind the actor. Though here of course the actor and their dress were treated as a screen on which to project coloured lights, shadows and patterns.

This new edit was not an attempt to reconstruct Clouzot’s story, although it does at times allude to what may have been, and perhaps even approximates a sense of frenzy and madness that Clouzot himself intended. Above all, it is a tribute to the extraordinarily hypnotic rushes that remain such a powerful enigma.

- Marketa Uhlirova


Barbican Centre Sunday 26 Mar 2017, 16:30