Toronto International Film Festival, day two: Inferno, The Informant!, etc.
Maybe the first thing you want to hear about is the Antichrist party, which turned out to be more like a Miami Vice party. (It had several sponsors, so there were no talking foxes, alas, but also no grievous bodily injuries.) Or maybe you want to hear about how awesome Matt Damon is in The Informant!, which again shows Steven Soderbergh as a master of pure—but personal—Hollywood entertainment. (You can read my review next week.) Or perhaps you want to know about the wan George Clooney vehicle The Men Who Stare at Goats, which created quite the line yesterday at the normally unfillable Varsity 8. (I'm saving that one for a possible Clooney-versus-Clooney post; his Up in the Air screens here today.)
Besides, in the interest of getting you psyched for the Chicago International Film Festival, the movie you really should hear about is Inferno, a remarkable documentary that presents fragments of a 1964 film that Henri-Georges Clouzot (director of The Wages of Fear and the original Diabolique) never finished. The French title—L'Enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot—more fully captures the ownership of the thing.
The question with any reconstruction is how to present the footage; Clouzot shot less than half of his movie (called Inferno), so you couldn't even do a patch job the way Jess Franco did to largely negative response with Orson Welles's Don Quixote. Working with a preservationist's respect for process, director Serge Bromberg instead chooses to focus on the making of the clips we do have, creating a whirlwind of footage that explains Clouzot's visual and aural strategies but mostly allows the imagery, which is like nothing ever seen on film, to speak for itself. The simple but effective documentary material (including interviews with director Costa-Gavras and celebrated cinematographer William Lubtchansky) often presents talking heads with fragments of Clouzot's movie playing on screens behind them; indeed, Bromberg's film comes to use Inferno's production as a metaphor for creative obsession. The more standard doc material provides an effective grounding for Clouzot's material while also staying out of its way.
Far behind on schedule and constantly rewriting, Clouzot started shooting for the sake of shooting; at one point, an interviewee remarks that no one really can say why this film had so many resources thrown at it (including Hollywood backing) and never came to fruition. But maybe that's for the best: Inferno's story, which concerns a husband's obsessive jealousy for his wife, seems like Freudian nonsense, and as Bromberg pointed out in the Q&A, if Clouzot had actually finished the film, we might not have all of the genuinely jaw-dropping rushes we have today. This is the rare documentary that's much more of an aesthetic pleasure than a narrative one, which makes it hard to describe in appropriately rapturous terms. I'll let Romy Schneider show you.
There's more on my Twitter, by the way; I may have to pick a fight with some of my colleagues who didn't like the film.