Inferno: Henri-Georges (Diaboliques) Clouzot’s Unfinished Film, Starring Romy Schneider and Serge Reggiani

In 1964, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known in the U.S. for his murder mystery Diabolique, one of the scariest film I have ever seen, chose Romy Schneider, age 26, and Serge Reggiani, 42, to be the stars of Inferno.
It was an enigmatic and original project with an unlimited budget that was to be a cinematic “event” upon its release. But after three weeks of shooting, things took a turn for the worse. The project was stopped, and the images, which were said to be “incredible,” would remain unseen.
These images, forgotten for over half a century, were recently found and are more breathtaking than legend had made us believe. They tell us of a unique film about madness and jealousy, filmed in the first-person, the story of an ill-fated film shoot, and of Henri-Georges Clouzot, who had given free reign to his filmmaking genius. Never has Romy Schneider been so beautiful and hypnotic. Never will an auteur be as close and as passionately linked to a hero he has created. The film shows “Inferno” as it was shot and tells the story of this tragedy.
“Inferno” is the story of a man, Marcel Prieur, played by Serge Reggiani, the manager of a modest hotel in provincial France who becomes possessed by the demons of jealousy. The film begins with Marcel standing before Odette’s stretched-out body with a razor blade in his hand, trying to remember how he got to this point. Did Odette, his pretty wife, despicably and scandalously cheat on him? And, with whom? He tries to remember their life together, and the happy beginning of their relationship: buying the hotel, meeting Odette…But, quickly, the memory grows hazy. Jealousy and visions take greater and greater control of his mind, and the spectator is soon also gripped with panic and doubt.
There is no proof, only horrible presumptions. The explanations, the proof of her innocence, the promises: none of it matters. From now on in Marcel’s mind, the faraway sound of a train will forever sound like a tortured scream. Hallucinatory visions soon gain the upper hand. Madness takes over Marcel’s brain, as well as the film’s narration…
Pieces of Puzzle
These 15 hours of film, like the mixed pieces of a puzzle, probably hold the secret of an unprecedented creative process. Like creatures that might have crossed the Rubicon and returned to live among us, the rushes are silent, the sound of voices has evaporated, and their precision, their beauty, and their visual freedom have made them fascinating.
The technicians and actors who participated in the 1964 shoot were located. Among them, there was Costa-Gavras, production assistant during the preparation, Catherine Allégret, for whom this was her first role, William Lubtchansky, assistant cameraman, at the time, and Bernard Stora, trainee assistant director. They accepted to speak about this mad adventure, both on a human and a professional level.
We found other elements that were tied to the film: storyboards, photographs, and sound recordings which particularly show Marcel’s madness. By putting these testimonials and different elements into perspective, we discover the story of a film and see these images in a new light.
Watching them, following Clouzot through the maze of his inner madness, only to lose ourselves in a story and in visions which are both stunning and incomprehensible–there lies the mystery of Clouzot. Our desire is to revive the story that Clouzot wished to tell and, in as much as possible, have the spectator relive it.
Jacques Gamblin and Bérénice Bejo act out several scenes from Clouzot’s original screenplay in order to make a connection with our narration. They respectively play the roles of Serge Reggiani and Romy Schneider.
The story takes shape and unfolds before our eyes. The images become increasingly hypnotic. There lies the whole mystery. It gives itself up to us and shrinks away at the same time. We see what Clouzot had seen. We are at the heart of artistic creation, which is neither logical nor explainable. Here, it is only an affair of beauty. Clouzot got it right after all.