It’s good news that MoMA will be showing a series of films by Henri-Georges Clouzot between now and Christmas. Long before today’s vogue for “extremity,” Clouzot made films that fiercely challenged audiences’ moral and emotional sensibilities, creating some of the most admirable achievements in French cinema. If, like me, you wish there were more movies like “Enter the Void,” or “L’Enfant,” “Demonlover” or “Ma MÃ¨re,” then this is a retrospective for you.
None of those movies, incidentally, are Clouzot’s. They’ve come up in conversation among critics on large number of films from France made in the 21st century that sometimes resemble snuff. Extreme libertinism abounds in the oeuvres of Catherine Breillat and Philippe Grandrieux. FranÃ§ois Ozon’s work frankly portrays genital mutilation and cannibalism. Gaspard Noé’s films have featured a nine-minute rape scene and a vagina cam (earning John Waters‘ ardent respect). In an essay in Artforum, James Quandt pulled together the trends toward extreme violence with the term “The New French Extremity,” disapprovingly attributing their hardcore sensibilities to something shallow and weak. Granted, these films aren’t for everybody, though in their exploration of the darker facets of the human nature, they owe an awful lot to Clouzot.
Some highlights of the series will include:
- Les Diaboliques (Diabolique). 1954. The wife and mistress of an abusive school headmaster plot to murder him. They soon discover that his body has disappeared. Based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who also wrote the book on which Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” was based. December 9 at 7PM, December 11 at 5:15.
- Manon. (1949) Based on the 18th century short novel by Abbé Prévost. A prostitute, taken for a Nazi collaborator, falls in love with a Resistance fighter and is forced to flee in the final hours of World War II. December 11 at 2:30, December 12 at 4:30.
- Les Inconnus dans la maison (Strangers in the House). 1942. A morbid, suspenseful example of Clouzot’s earlier work, targeted by critics left- and right-wing alike for its portrayal of a murder trial in a provincial town during the Occupation. December 10 at 5, December 15 at 4:30.
All showings will be the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St.