Manon is a little-seen gem from the master director Henri-Georges Clouzot. It is an extremely loose adaptation of the 1731 novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévos,, which transports the story to WW2 France. It was Clouzot’s second film after he was unfairly tarnished with accusations of being a Nazi collaborator over his film Le Corbeau and banned from making films for a few years. His first film after the ban was the police procedural Quai des Orfèvres, which was a big hit, as was Manon in France. However, over the years Manon has been almost forgotten.
It’s a pretty classic tale of romance between a resistance fighter, Robert (Michel Auclair), who rescues a young woman who is accused of being a Nazi collaborator. Given Clouzot’s own experience during the war, it’s no wonder that this update was something he was interested in pursuing. She is slated for execution, but Robert steps in at the last minute and in classic movie fashion, they fall in love in seconds. They move to Paris but can barely make ends meet, and end up turning to swindling, prostitution and even murder. It’s all told somewhat in a flashback starting on a boat where they escaping France to settle in Palestine.
As always, Clouzot directs it with absolute precision in the images and storytelling. The final doom-laden sequence in the deserts of Palestine is particularly striking. It’s also one of the first post-war French noirs, made seven years before Jean-Pierre Melville would reinvent the genre yet again with Bob le Flambeur. Serge Reggiani also co-stars in a significant role—Reggiani is an actor you’ve seen in various French films over the years, as is male lead Michel Auclair. Hopefully this release gives this fatalistic noir gem a second life for film fans, years after it won top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
The extras include an archival documentary from 1970 in which Clouzot is interviewed, and a new film appreciation with the film critic Geoff Andrew. It seems there is no booklet for this title even in the first pressing, which is becoming increasingly common for some Arrow titles.