Plot: What’s it about?
A small French provincial town is in a state of chaos, as paranoia and malice has overtaken most of its residents. At the heart of this situation are a series of poison-pen letters, which expose the hatred, suspicion, and corruption that have settled in the town. These letters have opened wounds and brought tensions to the surface, as the locals rush to discover who is behind these venomous writings. The list of potential suspects is deep, which means everyone has a guess and of course, everyone is certain that they’re right. This leads to harsh encounters of all kinds, as the locals accuse, criticize, and attack each other. No one seems to be above suspicion, since most of the residents have dark secrets that could be revealed. But some have already been aired by the writer of the letters, who is known as Le Corbeau, or The Raven. Dr. Remy Germain (Pierre Fresnay) is the town doctor, but his involvement in abortions could ruin his practice, not to mention sudden claims of sleeping with a married woman. A young woman steals from her workplace, only to use that stolen cash to swindle people out of even more. These are just two of the people exposed by Le Corbeau, but even they have additional secrets to hide. Will the town ever learn who Le Corbeau is and even if so, will the town ever recover?
This is an excellent picture, one that uses paranoia and communal thought to drive home some tense atmosphere. Le Corbeau is by no means a horror movie, but the tension is thick throughout and there is an eerie texture to most scenes. The film’s director, Henri-George Clouzot (Diabolique, The Wages of Fear) is able to craft an effective thriller in Le Corbeau, but he used real life elements to make it all work. As such, the themes and outcomes seem all the more important, which adds a lot to the experience. Clouzot was under intense fire for Le Corbeau from all directions, including the Nazis, who used the film as propaganda fodder against France. As time has passed, Le Corbeau has not lost its edge or impact, which is impressive, given that Clouzot based his work on the events in the world around him. Then again, the themes explored within the picture are timeless and universal, especially when handled this well. Le Corbeau can be hard to follow, but if you pay attention and pick up on the details, the depth of the material won’t be an issue. But this is a deep, complex movie and as such, you will have to devote your full attention. I am thrilled to see Le Corbeau released, as Criterion has drummed up a superb new transfer and tossed on some nice supplements, which means this release is highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Le Corbeau is presented in full frame, as intended. This is yet another testament to Criterion’s dedication, as this treatment is top notch in all respects. I’ve never seen a passable version of Le Corbeau, but this new transfer sparkles. As always, Criterion has used a digital restoration process to enhance the elements, so debris, unwanted grain, and even scratches have been minimized, with striking results. The image isn’t just cleaner, it is also sharper and more refined, with more depth than you might expect. The elements still have some worn moments, but compared to the alternatives, this is a dynamic visual presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original French soundtrack is preserved here via a mono option, which has been restored and enhanced for this edition. Criterion has cleaned up the elements and removed many imperfections, but this is still an older mono soundtrack. As such, some flaws remain and the audio has a thin presence in most scenes. This movie relies on dialogue however, so we don’t miss depth or dynamic presence in this case. I found dialogue to be clear and easy to understand, while the other elements seem in proper order as well. Not a dynamic soundtrack, but one which handles the material well and offers no reason to complain. This disc also includes optional English subtitles, which have been retranslated for this release.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes a documentary excerpt, an interview with filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, and the film’s theatrical trailer.