La Vérité is the penultimate feature by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who was already starting to be seen as old hat by the French New Wave filmmakers. It stars everybody’s favourite pouting French blonde bombshell fascist who “only cares about the animals,” Brigitte Bardot. The film was hotly anticipated when it came out in 1960 because it was the sold as the film where Bardot would become a “real actress.” It was a long and complicated shoot, with plenty of scandalous stories coming out in the press.
Bardot plays Dominique Marceau, who is under trial for the murder of her lover Gilbert (Sami Frey). Over the course of the next two hours, you witness the events that led up to the murder, through testimony during the trial by various witnesses. You know from the get-go that she did it, but was it cold-blooded murder or just a “crime of passion”? Her character is constantly assassinated during the trial: she was a small-town girl who moved to Paris with her more upright sister, and all the things that you would expect a young Brigitte Bardot to get up to happened. Her lover, a talented young music student, was initially her sister’s boyfriend, but then sparks fly between the two.
When the film came out, it was a smash hit—probably down to Bardot more than anything else. It actually is still the biggest hit of Bardot’s film career, as she would retire in the early ’70s. It’s a fascinating film, because on one hand Dominique is completely at fault for her own fate, but the sexist prosecution isn’t let off the hook by Clouzot either. It’s certainly a film at a crossroads, with one foot in the more prudish ’50s and the other in the more liberated ’60s (the film came out in 1960.)
Clouzot directs with his classic precision in storytelling, with barely a frame wasted, even if it could probably have been trimmed down. It has stylistic flourishes when Clouzot considers them appropriate, but only then: a shot of Bardot’s face reflecting off a piece of broken glass is a standout image. According to reports, Clouzot and Bardot clashed constantly on set, one of the male leads left the project, Bardot suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide (much like her character in the film), and she had an affair with Sami Frey that ended her marriage. But despite this troublesome production, it’s a key film in both Clouzot and Bardot’s careers.
The disc includes a documentary on Clouzot and archival interviews with Clouzot and Bardot. The essay in the booklet is by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.