World War II was a difficult period for many European film directors. There was a migration ahead of the Holocaust and Nazi rule, which trundled West from Germany along with the Panzer regiments. If you were Jewish, there was obviously not option, but those who remained in occupied territory faced the choice of complying or facing a sojourn in a camp or prison. Henri-Georges Clouzot chose the former. His 1943 film Le Corbeau was produced by Continental Films, a German production company established during occupation. After the liberation of France, Clouzot would receive a lifetime ban, which was later reduced to two years. Le Corbeau is based on the true story of a woman who terrorised townsfolk with poison pen letters in 1922.
In a small provincial French town, a number of residents start receiving scandalous letters from an author who calls themself The Raven (le corbeau). Whilst these target a number of people, the focus for their ire falls on the handsome doctor Germain (Pierre Fresnay), who is claimed to be an abortionist and to be having an affair with the pretty wife (Micheline Francey) of an elderly psychiatrist (Pierre Larquey). As the pressure mounts and the town turns against Germain, his attempts to unmask The Raven become increasingly desperate.
Le Corbeau is a tense and fraught drama about paranoia, suspicion and hysteria. Clouzot was criticised at the time for portraying the French people in a negative light, and in a time of corroboration and collusion with the enemy, you can see why. At times, it’s hard to keep up with the rapid twists and turns as Le Corbeau approaches its bloody denouement. It’s a film which will leave you gasping for breath.
The new 4k restoration of Le Corbeau is released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download by StudioCanal on 5 March.