This year sees the centenary of the birth of not only one of French cinema’s, but also the world’s, most celebrated directors. Often referred to as the ‘French Alfred Hitchcock’, René Clément had a penchant for the macabre and mysterious, as reflected in four films newly released by francophile UK distributor StudioCanal. Starring Brigitte Fossey, Frank Langella, Oscar-winner Faye Dunaway and Mia Farrow’s sister Tisa amongst others, Forbidden Games (1952), Gervaise (1956), The Deadly Trap (1971) and And Hope to Die (1972) perfectly reflect the otherworldliness and surreal atmosphere which pervaded much of Clément’s work.
Forbidden Games follows little Paulette (Fossey) who after being orphaned during The Battle of France in 1940, is befriended by a young peasant boy Michel (Georges Poujoully), whose family take Paulette into their home and look after her. Paulette and Michel who form a close bond as time goes on, find a way of dealing with the death and destruction around them by making a cemetery in the ruins of a barn, where they bury dead animals which they find. Things, including Paulette’s relationship with her adopted family, come to a head however after the police come to the family’s home to take Paulette away with devastating results.
Gervaise, based on French romantic novelist Émile Zola’s acclaimed 1877 work L’Assommoir, tells the story of the titular Gervaise (Maria Schell), who runs her own laundry business whilst facing the difficulties and personal heartbreak of coping with her alcoholic husband Henri (François Périer). Things get worse however, with the return of her old lover Lantier (Armand Mestral) who had left her to look after their two children, and now shows up working himself back into her life and causing trouble for all concerned.
In The Deadly Trap, Jill (Dunaway) and her husband Philip (Langella) are a young American couple living in Paris with their two young children Cathy and Patrick. Philip, a brilliant computer scientist who works for an academic publisher is keeping a dark secret from his past life hidden from his wife and friends. After a series of outwardly innocent yet perplexing incidents start to make Cathy question her sanity, it becomes clear that someone is using her and her fragile state to get at Philip.
Finally, And Hope to Die – the final film in this quartet release – concerns the exploits of a misfit criminal gang who are intent on pulling off a kidnapping, which consequently doesn’t quite transpire as planned. These films may at first appear strange to those unused to the surrealism and offbeat complexities of Clément’s oeuvre. Yet, on closer inspection, they are perfect examples of what the director did best, a mix of intense drama and complex relationships, particularly using war, crime and children as catalysts for his vivid imagination.
The StudioCanal rerelease of these films on DVD here in UK will make perfect additions to the collections of fans of the late, great René Clément, one of France’s most revered cinematic sons. What’s more, for those new to his work, the collection also make an ideal introduction to a director who was, and still is, held in high esteem by the international cineaste community.