This documentary about Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 psycho-thriller L’Enfer is as tantalizing as it is frustrating. Despite remaining one of the most masterful of French directors, Cluozot inexplicably seems to have lost control on the big-budget production of L’Enfer. The long-lost raw footage is intriguing and dazzling, infused with swirling lights and blue-lipped, cigarette-puffing fantasy temptresses. Although directors Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Mederea have managed to speak to numerous members of the original crew, this behind-the-scenes investigation has so little to say about the reasons behind Clouzot’s failure to complete the film. In spite of this, the undiminished power of Clouzot’s extraordinary images makes the documentary a fascinating watch.
Max is a Paris detective, aloof, independently wealthy, and frustrated by gangs of robbers whom he cannot catch. To re-establish his stature and save face, he decides to inveigle a group of petty thieves (led by an old acquaintance) to rob a bank. A reluctant captain provides Max intelligence and Max starts spending evenings with Lilly, a prostitute who’s the girlfriend of the group’s leader. He poses as a rich banker with money to burn and encourages Lilly to think about her future. He hints at a payroll that comes through his bank. The plot works, the petty thieves think they’re ready for a big score, and the cops are in place. What could go wrong with Max’s cold plan? Who’s entrapped?