Saturday, March 25, 2017

Cinema Obscura: La Prisionnaire (aka Woman In Chains)

Released in 1968 at the height of power pop and love, French director Henri Georges Clouzot's final film plays like he knows it'll be his last. Opening with a smorgasbord of subliminally placed bright colors amidst free-flowing jazzy editing , "La Prisionnaire" (or "Woman In Chains" as it was marginally released in the States) is a vibrant gasp effort from the aging (and ailing) filmmaker. Halted several times during production due to Clouzot's health, "Woman In Chains" ultimately feels like it should be recognized alongside Antonioni's "Blow Up" or "Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" as a film that not only seems to understand the overall 'grooviness' of its day but one that subverts its inherent perversion and takes stilted joy in the ideas just lurking beneath the surface. And like both those films, "Woman In Chains" twists and turns the idea of watching and being looked at into a spry psychological game of who'll bluff and look away first. The fact that its Clouzot's first and only color film is also quite wonderful, and gets a lot of mileage from it.

As the free-spirited woman in an "open" relationship with her husband, Josee (a beautiful Elisabeth Wiener) falls under the spell of modern at dealer Stanislas (Laurent Terzieff). He introduces her to his hobby of photographing woman in bondage photos. An uneasy relationship grows between them. Both the aesthetic choices of bondage and modern art (here recreated as gaudy pieces of chandeliers, decadent wall paintings and psychotropic displays) gives Clouzot the opportunity to enter into a fun-house style of set design. More often than not, "Woman In Chains" feels like a late 60's performance piece documentary rather than a psychological thriller. Of course, this being a French film, l' amour fou develops between the couple and the film ambles towards a climax of self-loathing, repentance and one beautifully staged moment between two people on a rooftop with the Eiffel Tower careening in the background.

Gaining some recognition on the festival circuit a couple years back, "Woman In Chains" deserves a much wider re-release than its been given. While it may not be Clouzot's absolute best film (which still remains "Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique" simply for their genre-setting templates), "Woman In Chains" is a perverse, skilled and eye-popping rendition of how Clouzot saw the world in groovy 1968.