Tuesday, May 5, 2009

THE WAGES OF FEAR (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953, France) Four men are mired in the muck of dreary circumstances, waiting to escape their purgatory by praying at the oil-stained alter of the almighty American dollar, risking their lives to earn a meager wage of fear. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot has structured a masterpiece of sustained suspense and intense masculinity, introducing a handful of lost men drifting upon the ether of chance, living an aimless life in a dead-end town. The first half of the film focuses upon this prison-like town and its inhabitants who are unable to escape without the means (RE: money). Clouzot’s tight framing and tracking shots give life to this grimy villa, this anti-Casablanca: a neo-realistic cinematic style of depicting their poor and impoverished existence. He contrasts this by showing the American Conglomerate SOC (Southern Oil Company) as dominating the town, separated by a social hierarchy and millions of dollars, its manager a fat egocentric who stuffs himself with food while many about him starve. He is a callous man who hires four local men for a dangerous mission because, if they die, he doesn’t have to answer to the Union. The second half of the film concerns the mission: two trucks must make a 300-mile trip loaded with pure liquid nitroglycerine. These four men wager everything for $2000 each, their ticket to a better life, and must drive these trucks through dangerous mountains and over unpaved roads, where the slightest bump risks catastrophe. Clouzot moves the camera into the truck’s cab framing the characters in medium and explosive close-ups, as the task’s emotional toll begins eating away their humanity. He forgoes a musical score and lets harsh breathing, grinding tires, and coughing engines become the language of the drama. The aggravated suspense is nerve wracking: from the washboard roads to a rotting wooden platform, and an immovable boulder to a lake of viscid oil, we see the toll upon each visage as they respond to the tension idiomatically. After this grueling ordeal, one driver receives his paycheck and, in a masterful crosscutting finale, cashes it in unexpectedly. (A)


robertosmeeth said...

I have this dvr'd off of Turner Classic movies and look forward to watching it. I don't suppose the remake, "Sorcerer", is worth checking out?

Alex DeLarge said...

SORCERER is a film I haven't seen since the days of Prism ( a pay channel in the 80s from Philly). But any film by Friedken is worth checking out so I need to revisit it again.