Criterion Corner: La Vérité (1960) - Reviewed

The great French auteur Henri-Georges Clouzot brought us some of the greatest suspense films of all time, but none will be so overlooked yet so powerful and masterful as La Vérité, a stunning courtroom drama that tells its tale in a most peculiar and fascinating way. The innocence of a scorned lover is brought into question as she is arrested and put on trial after being caught in the midst of an attempted suicide that took the life of her lover, but it becomes clearer that  her image of innocence lost is a mirage- a whore in sheep's clothing who likely would have met a similar demise under similar circumstances.

Its story begins post-incarceration, piecing together Dominique's troubled past for us in little bits and pieces, as the prosecution and the jury slowly tear her story apart and examine it for themselves. From the very beginning, her attitude is clearly that of careless promiscuity, spelling out all but certain doom for her tragic tale. She is a rebellious soul, drowning in her own pool of lust and sexual desire, waiting for any and every man to bend to her will and whim. It's the perfect role for Brigitte Bardot, really. The French sexpot is practically infamous for her lusty body and characters, but she still has an incredible presence in her performances the likes of which have rarely been matched since. Here, her insatiable lust is unsanctioned- rather, put into a critical light that puts into a realistic perspective just how fruitless her hedonistic lifestyle is. It's a shocking change of circumstance for Bardot, but a more than welcome one at that.

Armand Thirard, who also collaborated with Clouzot on Diabolique and The Wages of Fear, offers up a stunning black and white cinematography that perfectly captivates the most intense and endearing moments in this legal drama that even today, nearly sixty years later, is astounding and daring in its artistry. There's an intricate kind of personification that can be gleaned from this camerawork that gives it a life all of its own- you almost wouldn't believe that this was a film made in its era. Wide angles encapsulate the crowded courtroom and show just how much of a circus this trial was going to be from the start- there's just so much going on that the camera never misses out on, and it's undoubtedly one of, if not Clouzot's best shot film (yes, even better than The Wages of Fear

Criterion graciously released this late-era Clouzot effort in a stunning 4K restoration, undertaken in part by the film's US distributor Columbia Pictures, and to say that it looks better than ever before would be an understatement. Modern technology has made wonderful contributions in the world of cinema- masterpieces nearly lost to deterioration can be viewed in nearly crystal clear quality just as perfectly clean as they were upon release, if not even better. Also included is an hour-long documentary from 2017 about Clouzot's career and his fight against censorship in his home country; and two archival interviews with Clouzot and Brigitte Bardot in relation to the film. It's a light release when it comes to features, but given the film included, I'm inclined to ignore any complaints I might regularly have about the lack of a robust selection of supplements.

Perhaps it's my own preference for legal dramas, but I firmly believe that La Vérité is Clouzot's finest film. It's a supremely human drama that takes its time in examining its protagonist in an unfiltered light that reveals every bit of dirt and grime that shows her true form. Each and every performance serves a purpose, and could easily be solidified as one of the best of its class. There's no pointless filler or time wasted- every single second of flashback builds and leads up to the ultimate conclusion that will leave your heart broken in two. This is probably one of Clouzot's easily most overlooked films, but one that will hopefully garner more and more attention as the Criterion release gradually makes its way out to the public eye.

-Wes Ball