Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Manny Farber on Manon (1949)

"Manon" is a hard-boiled version of Prevost's bedridden novelette, with a creaking, improbable script job waylaying director [Henri] Georges Clouzot. Manon Lescaut (Cecile Aubry) is now a baby-faced siren, her incredibly faithful lover is a maquis fighter, and their unswerving passion -- shared with any willing and wealthy fat man -- lights the way from Paris black markets to the sands of Palestine. The cold, frank Clouzot (“The Raven", "Jenny Lamour") is a perverse craftsman who casts incongruous creatures (half-pint Aubry) and contrives unnecessary obstacles.


On a jammed train where there is no room for moving-picture apparatus and crowds are unwieldy, he threads his heroine through every aisle for a masterful analysis of life on the level of canned sardines. In an abandoned farmhouse with no constricting conditions for the director, the impassioned teen-agers neck in the dark, search the rooms with a flashlight that digs the past out of the worn-out decor. Clouzot's best talent is for clawing behind camouflages with a candid camera. He achieves the lonely, unglamorous feeling of a junky movie theater by working only in the basement and manager's office. His detailed pictures of a high-class bordello, a frenzied jive cave, a dress salon, unearth the provocative nuances of its people -- usually from the waist down. ''Manon'' is halted and conventionalized by its hack plotting enlivened by its ludicrous pornography, and is, otherwise, a painful study of Parisians at their peculiar worst.

--Manny Farber (January 13, 1951, The Nation)

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