Josée (Elizabeth Wiener) is a television researcher who is married to Gilbert (Bernard Fresson), an artist trying to keep up with the latest trends in modernism. To that end he has created a few sculptures based around cubes, and encourages Josée to assist him in bringing his works to the Parisian gallery that is staging an abstract art exhibition he has managed to be included in. She believes she is happy enough with this talent, but reckons without her meeting with one of his associates, the photographer Stanislas (Laurent Terzieff), who has his own exacting ideas of what constitutes art, especially in his more private sessions with the women who agree to pose for him...
The only film of his shot in colour, Henri-Georges Clouzot's La Prisonniere was also his last, after a career that was never as prolific as he would have liked thanks to his fragile health. He only made three films in the nineteen-sixties, and he was only still in his fifties at the time, making matters worse was the fact one of those movies was never completed, the one directly before this. His style was largely rejected by those eggheads at the French Nouvelle Vague, whose tendency was to dismiss what had gone before to render their works all the more important on the national and international stage, and this appeared to have frustrated the previously well-thought of director, hence there was a snarky tone here.
Echoing the interests of the more experimental Alain Robbe-Grillet, Clouzot affected an interest in sadomasochism, or at least submission and domination, as his theme, with Josée becoming inexplicably (to her) drawn towards Stan's preferences, both sexual and social. While she is over at his apartment to check out some slides of handwriting he has been analysing, he accidentally (as far as we know) includes a snap of one of his models bound in chains, and she bursts out laughing, much to his embarrassment. She tries to probe him on this "hobby" but he asks her to leave, which she does, however this image plays on her mind and the next time they meet he is exploiting her prurience.
A prurience that is partly concealed by her conservative nature, but like many a fairy tale heroine she finds romance in the most forbidding of men which allows them both to open up to the possibilities of a stable, loving relationship. Or that's the idea, but Clouzot, old misanthrope that he was, was not about to allow that kind of "and they all lived happily ever after..." to take place, leaving us with a conclusion that suggested anyone with an all-consuming fixation on something out of the mainstream, sexually or otherwise, is doomed to exist in a world where they not only will not find the acceptance they need, but will not be able to accept that love even of it is offered on a plate, as Josée does to Stan. Well, you just had to take one look at his interior design to tell he was not a well man.
So all those future sex dramas where sadomasochism was normalised, or taken as an expression of healthier desires in an unconventional manner, were outright rejected by this early example of the subgenre of romantic screen fiction. Perhaps this was a more realistic, not to say pragmatic, take on the subject, after all enjoying pain inflicted on you by someone you're attracted to is a perversion of sorts, be that psychological or physical, and Clouzot had no tolerance for anyone who would tell you otherwise, but he went about that observation in a manner that was, if anything, deriving satisfaction from behaviour far crueller than any of Stan's fantasies made real, or as real as his camera will allow. Musings over precisely what a film director got out of ordering his cast around were definitely present, but the stern pronouncement on personalities which seek to be punished in some way led to an alarming well-shot train collision and a 2001: A Space Odyssey stargate sequence in psychedelics that had been hinted at throughout, though not through recreational drugs, but sheer agony and anguish. Bleak and stark in its representations of anti-romance.
French director, responsible for some now classic thrillers. Originally a screenwriter, Clouzot's debut film was L'Assassin Habite Au 21 in 1942, which he followed by the controversial The Raven. Its harsh portrayal of small-town France was considered unpatriotic, and Clouzot was barred from working in France for five years.
Clouzot returned with the thriller Jenny Lamour and powerful Manon, before 1953's brilliant white-knuckle-ride The Wages of Fear became a big international success. Les Diaboliques, two years later, proved even more popular, and is still considered one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made. Inevitably Clouzot's subsequent work paled in comparison to these masterpieces, and ill-health dogged the director throughout the rest of his career. However, the likes of The Spies, The Truth (with Brigitte Bardot) and his final film La Prisonniere remain distinctive, often disturbing movies.