Murray State's Cinema International presents a classic film noir that's been called the most controversial film in French history. Director of MSU's Cinema International, Dr. Thérèse St. Paul, visits Sounds Good to discuss The Raven (from the French Le Corbeau) and its historical and cinematic legacies.
"A vicious series of poison-pen letters spread rumors, suspicion and fear among the inhabitants of a small French town, and one after another, they turn on each other as their hidden secrets are unveiled - but the one secret that no-one can uncover is the identity of the letters' author."
The 1943 film, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, "was actually made during World War II," St. Paul begins. "It was filmed during the occupation by the German Continental Film Company. Clouzot tried to make quality film with meaning rather than the mindless entertainment the Vichy [French government headed by Marshal Philipe Pétain] wanted them to make."
"You have to remember that even Hollywood at that time had restrictions as to what films could be talking about," St. Paul continues. "Censorship was strong. Knowing that, we have to see Le Corbeau as a subversive movie."
"There is absolutely no mention of war in this movie. It starts with an intriguing view of a village. Immediately, [the film] sort of warns you that this could be any village anywhere in the world, really. There you are."
While The Raven doesn't focus on literal war, "there's a constant psychological war going on that involves suspicion, surveillance, leading to paranoia," St. Paul explains. "That was the same that was going on at that time under the occupied territory...really showing, in a way, how people during the war could turn upon each other."
The parallels between the village in the film and Vichy-controlled France were not lost on the government. Although the film proved popular with audiences, "the right-wing collaborationist Vichy government pulled Le Corbeau from theaters because of the immorality of its characters as well as its thinly veiled references to the destructive nature of informing on your neighbors, a staple of Vichy France."
The right-leaning government was not the only party disaffected by the film. The resistance, or the left-leaning sect, "didn't like very much because it didn't show French character in a very good light," St. Paul says. This widespread animosity towards the film ended with Clouzot being banned from working for life following the end of World War II. This punishment was ultimately lifted two years later when Clouzot released Quai des Orfèvres, or Goldsmiths' Quay.
The Raven mixes "various cinematic styles," St. Paul explains. "The effect of the color and the eyes of the camera that [Alfred] Hitchcock perfected is in there. Styles already done by MGM and Paramount Hollywood. The kind of cinematography in German expressionism. You have Nosferatu, that was a 30s movie, but you already had a black and white used to affect."
MSU Cinema International will present The Raven on Thursday, February 20th, and Saturday, February 22nd, at 7:30 p.m. in the Curris Center Theater on the third floor of the Curris Center. Admission is free and open to the public. Discussions will be held on Thursday with a featured specialist on film noir and Murray State professor of history, Dr. Rivera, on Saturday.
For more information on the Cinema International program, including how to donate, visit the Murray State website.