And so it was to be with 1964’s Inferno, a film about a husband (played by Serge Reggiani) who experiences hallucinatory fantasies about his wife’s extramarital affairs with lovers of both sexes. The director wanted to cut deep into the realm of jealousy and project how it can “deform the universe,” according to one of the film’s interview subjects.
Clouzot (1907-1977) was working as a screenwriter in the 1930s. His peak years were undoubtedly the 1950s, and when he began shooting Inferno, he had not made a picture since 1960’s The Truth. But his name carried enough weight to ensure the backing of Columbia Pictures and draw top-flight talent in Reggiani and Romy Schneider, who plays his wife.
Clouzot started shooting screen tests early in 1964; by the end of June, the project ground to a halt after Reggiani walked off the set in angst and illness and Clouzot suffered a heart attack while filming a scene of Schneider and actress Dany Carrel kissing and fondling each other (in one of the husband’s dream scenes). The project was abandoned, and 185 cans of film totaling 13 hours of footage were left, along with no soundtrack and a question: What happened?
Bromberg and Medrea don’t provide all the answers — perhaps because it’s a mystery that is impossible to solve. Bromberg, a film historian and preservationist, acknowledges in his opening narration that he got involved with the documentary after being stuck in an elevator for two hours with Clouzot’s widow, Inès de Gonzalez, who, upon being freed, gave Bromberg the OK to view the Inferno footage and make a documentary.
The original footage is fascinating and experimental, with many scenes of seduction. Those interviewed for the documentary agree that Clouzot was trying to visually expand the borders of cinema by blending colors, images, and a new style of acting to create an on-screen inferno. Schneider is incredibly sexy in the surviving footage — you can see why Reggiani’s character would be concerned about her overabundant sensuality. One sequence of Schneider using her body to play with a Slinky is still titillating today.