Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

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.

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