'Manon: Special Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Serge Reggiani, Michel Auclair, Cécile Aubry, et al / Blu-ray / NR / (1949) 2020 / Arrow Films UK)
Overview: A classical tragic romance transposed to a World War II setting, Clouzot's film follows the travails of Manon (Cécile Aubry), a village girl accused of collaborating with the Nazis who is rescued from imminent execution by a former French Resistance fighter (Michel Auclair).
The couple move to Paris, but their relationship turns stormy as they struggle to survive, resorting to profiteering, prostitution and even murder.
Eventually escaping to Palestine, the pair attempt a treacherous desert crossing in search of the happiness which seems to forever elude them.
Blu-ray Verdict: Personally, I can imagine that Clouzot took on the task of filming this classic with a lot of trepidation: it's just not his kind of story.
A picaresque novel of 1734, with aristocratic ideals in conflict with a sordid story was not going to be well-handled by a director who pioneered the noir form in France.
His forte was telling a gritty story with characters stretched to the breaking point (as Montand and Vanel were in 'Wages of Fear'). It required a great deal of updating and tinkering with the basic story before Clouzot could feel comfortable with it.
The central narrative concerns Robert Dégrieux (Auclair, a splendid dope) and Manon Lescaut (Aubry, cunningly adorable), where the former quickly falls in love with the latter and finds himself spun into a vortex of mistrust and misjudgements, becoming more compulsive and foolish by the day.
The pursuit of a dream life by both Robert and Manon, runs concurrently with that of the Jewish people attempting to reach Israel, it is here where Clouzot is building towards a quite outstanding last quarter of film.
In truth, Cecile Aubry does not impress me with her acting skills; she mainly pouts and sighs her way through the picture. How much more could Danielle Darrieux or Micheline Presle have brought to the film!
Michel Auclair was a superb leading man who made many films, this is one of his best (see him also in 'Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre'). Here he manages to convey desire, murderous rage and exasperation with Manon's whims.
Dora Doll and her big toothy grin, as well as Gabrielle Dorziat as the prim madam of Manon's brothel were good, but Serge Reggiani as Manon's brother stole every scene he was in. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original 1.0 mono audio
Optional English subtitles
Bibliothèque de poche: H.G. Clouzot, an archival documentary from 1970 in which Clouzot talks of his love of literature and the relationship between the page and the screen
Woman in the Dunes, a newly filmed video appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew
Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
'Manon: Special Edition' Blu-ray Purchase Link