HUIS CLOS (Jacqueline Audry, 1954)

Ten years after the first production of the one-act existentialist play, the first film of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit appeared—believe it or not, at Christmastime. Sartre’s version of the afterlife, which is an ironical, cryptic metaphor for the here and now, is where “Hell is other people”—in this case, the two others in the trio of strangers who have been assigned the same room for all eternity. Written by Pierre Laroche and directed by Jacqueline Audrey,—frequent collaborators (for instance, Gigi, from Colette, 1949)—the film, intent on being cinematic, opens up the play, but with sufficient ingenuity and charm to keep the carping of purists at bay. This is an enjoyable (dare I say it?) entertainment.

Indeed, the bravura opening, in the “hotel” lobby of a flameless, torture instrument-free Hell, sparkles with wit as various “guests” insist that some mistake must have been made to explain their being there, and all attempts to exit (for instance, by bribery, by walking out) fail. Once we are in the elegant, spacious room that Garcin, Inès and Estelle share, where each has his or her own couch, but no bed because no one sleeps in Hell, the “opening up” continues. Behind curtains is a gigantic “window,” really, a movie screen where scenes of two kinds play: critical scenes from the pasts of the three damned souls; scenes of the living as they carry on, or have carried on, after the departure of these three damned souls. The camera closes in so that the movie scenes-within-the-movie become, however fleetingly, also the movies that we ourselves are watching. The resultant compounding of sets is sardonic, providing the trio with an illusion of expanded space and freedom that only underscores their present (and future) state, which the betrayals they are witnessing exacerbate. The end of the “film clip” finds the camera withdrawing and the rigid outline of the screen, with its constriction of space, reasserting itself. Hell is having one’s dodges and lies given a good pitchforking. Needless to say, we learn in due course why each of the three has been consigned to Hell.

The whole thing is headed for the same joint laughter that was no more convincing in the play. But one can’t have everything.

Arletty, Jacques Prévert and Marcel Carné’s Garance in Les enfants du paradis (1945), is ferocious as former postal worker  Inès, claiming a rare starring role in the wake of her fall from national grace. Her acting is stupendous as the butch movie lesbian to end all butch movie lesbians.

And again one remembers what a brilliant play Sartre wrote here—only, this time with (counting the “bellboy”) a lot more than four characters.

 

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

 

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