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Caught in a Bad Romance: Clouzot’s Dire Love Story Resurrected “Manon” | Blu-ray Review

Arrow Academy resurrects an early notable work from the filmography of Henri-Georges Clouzot with his 1949 Manon, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The title was Clouzot’s second post-WWII film (the first being Quai des Orfevres, 1947) following the lift of his ban from filmmaking in France due to his collaborations with the Nazis during the German occupation (which, of course, was a complex situation for Clouzot, whose health issues limited his options and whose 1943 classic Le Corbeau was the cause of his undoing with the Nazi run production company Continental Films).

Celebrated for his thrillers, which include classics like Diabolique and The Wages of Fear, Clouzot was heavily criticized and demeaned by the onslaught of the New Wave filmmakers who classified him as old-fashioned. But even by 1949’s standards, this odd-duck in the director’s filmography (adapted from the classic 1731 novel by Abbe Prevost, Manon Lescaut) may be a tempestuous love affair, but one marked savagely by the uncompromising fluctuations of power which crush survivors ‘neath the weight of lofty ideals.

Manon begins in a place where Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena (2000) ends, its titular heroine punished by the locals for using her feminine wiles to survive Nazi occupation. As Manon, Cecile Aubry is an impish, arguably manipulative figure who sees her best shot at survival in resisting imprisonment in France by wooing Robert (Michael Auclair) a former resistance fighter who seals his doom by absconding with her to Paris.

Happiness eludes them, however, when Robert tries to lead them to more reputable climes accepting a job in a distant province. But tempted by the finer things in life, Manon convinces him to instead take a questionable job working for her no-good brother Leon (Serge Reggiani), whose influence over his sister moves Robert to violence. Clouzet’s update takes them on a continually treacherous path, winding their way to Palestine where fate catches up with them in the desert.

Clouzet’s tragic romance remains an oddity in his landscape of thrillers and sordid dramas, but contains themes he’d return to often enough. Manon isn’t too far removed from the Brigitte Bardot character of his later 1961 masterpiece La Verite (read review), and Robert’s obsession for control of her agency a common theme in Clouzet’s palette, especially his failed 1964 project Inferno—Manon and Robert’s love reaches its zenith in death, the only true equalizer of lovers. Clouzet’s script, co-written by Jean Ferry (who adapted Zola’s Nana for Christian-Jaque in 1955) is filled with surprisingly blunt dialogue considering the period, but perhaps nothing outweighs Manon’s repeated refrain, “Nothing is disgusting when you’re in love.”

Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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