Thursday, March 18, 2010
#193: Quai des Orfèvres
This is the last of the Clouzot Criterion films for me, having seen Le Corbeau during this project and both Diabolique and Wages of Fear a number of times. While I would say it is my least favorite of the four, I would also say it is a masterpiece of French noir, a winding and smoothly unlikely plot that comes off as revolutionary as it does entertaining. The steps taken to set up the prime suspense - the idea that the husband and wife must keep their involvement in a murder secret from each other, while trying to evade the police - would seem ridiculous if they weren't so masterfully presented. Clouzot is often called the French Hitchcock, and certainly the complexity here calls to mind the seamless yet implausible scheming of Vertigo.
But it also, like Clouzot's other classics, dwells on the taboo, plots that would have a hard time working their way into current films. Just as Le Corbeau dealt with abortion, this film features a lesbian character as one of the main characters, and not in a sideways development like in Hitchcock's Rebecca, but in an open way that couldn't leave anyone doubting it. Yet Clouzot does not punish the character or even judge her, but merely treats her like everyone else in his world.
Still, the real pleasures of Quai des Orfèvres are the same things that make the other three Clouzot masterpieces worth watching: those tense moments when the complexities of plot and character come together and the viewer is rewarded with edge-of-the-seat suspense. In those moments, master and average filmmakers alike have complete control over their viewers. The difference between the two is their ability to deliver on this promise and leave the viewer not only satisfied, but desperate for another fix. Clouzot is one of the most addictive filmmakers there is, which is to say he is one of the great filmmakers of all time.