Dominique Marceau (Brigitte Bardot) awakens in prison on the morning of her trial for murder, and frankly she would rather stay in her bed, uncomfortable as it is. But she must get dressed and head over to the courtroom, where the media are gathering like vultures over this sensational case where she has been accused of murder. The victim? Her boyfriend Gilbert (Sami Frey), a music student, who she had a passionate affair with - but does that mean it was a crime of passion she committed, hence she need not face the death penalty? Not that she is too bothered about dying, for the trauma is so much that Dominique doesn't believe she can go on much longer anyway...
Director Henri-Georges Clouzot was beginning to feel somewhat under siege at the point he made La Verite, or The Truth to translate, for the younger generation of the French New Wave had emerged and made their mark on the culture, and they were giving him very short shrift indeed. It wasn't solely him who they were sceptical about, it was his whole class of film director who they wanted to regard as passé, dismissing great swathes of their past culture in one fell swoop, no matter that there was plenty of value to be had there. Clouzot in particular was a highly skilled exponent of thrillers and grim drama, of which this was an example of the latter; Bardot was different, however.
She was brought to him with the potential for keeping him relevant, and so he determined to make a thespian out of her by having her play a character who went through the emotional wringer. She was certainly very pleased with the results, and would claim it among the very favourite of the films she made probably because she was given the opportunity to prove she was more than a pretty face, and so it was, whether thanks to Clouzot's direction or her inner reserves of talent, she was utterly convincing in the role of a wanton sex kitten suffering a reckoning and a realisation that she will not be able to be as free-spirited member of a youth movement in its most nascent form.
Of course, in light of the troubled way Bardot was feeling at the time, it could have been the film hit a little too close to home: she would attempt suicide around the point of its making, one of a number of serious drawbacks to strike the film that, while it was a big hit, represented essentially the end of Clouzot's career as a successful director, though he did limp on into the end of the nineteen-sixties. Many of those who championed him regarded La Verite as his endorsement of the younger generation who seemed to be vilifying him, since Dominique represented the way hypocritical authorities and conservatives would seek to destroy anyone who did not conform: really her crime is sleeping around, petulance in the face of a stifling home life and thorough disaffection, not so much the possibility that she has done in her lover.
Yet you could also see something of Clouzot rubbing his hands together and getting stuck into his own punishment of Dominique as a representative of all those darn kids who sought to label him a dinosaur in his own culture. The heroine is punished as much by the plotline as she was by any scathing treatment of the establishment, and so absolute was her humiliation the impression was the director was enjoying her suffering along with the way she showed up the double standards and intolerance of her tormentors. That Clouzot did not align himself with either side, if you cared to examine it, revealed his notoriously cynical approach to human nature, and with the film's overlong indulgence in attacking everyone he could think of aside from himself, the courtroom drama with extensive flashbacks structure could be so unrelenting as to be hard work if you wanted a simple whodunnit (or why-dunnit). La Verite was definitely not that: there was too much baggage here, too much anger, so much that it could barely bring itself to a proper conclusion.
[Criterion have released this on Blu-ray; those features in full:
New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Le scandale Clouzot, a sixty-minute documentary from 2017 on director Henri-Georges Clouzot
Interview from 1960 with Clouzot
Interview with actor Brigitte Bardot from the 1982 documentary Brigitte Bardot telle qu’elle
New English subtitle translation
PLUS: An essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.]
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.