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Le Courbeau Review

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A series of poison pen letters destroys the social fabric of a small, self-contained French town

★★★★

This account of how a series of poison pen letters destroys the social fabric of a small, self-contained town came to be the most reviled film made in France during the Nazi Occupation.

Supporters of the Vichy regime railed against its attacks on the family, the professions and the notion of civic duty, while partisans despised its moral ambiguity - indeed, some even proclaimed it pro-German.

But Louis Chavance based his screenplay (originally written in 1931) on a notorious 1920s case, and its dissection of the hypocrisy and paranoia of the middle-class recalled the pre-war poetic realism of Vigo, Renoir and Carne.

Its historical context and consequences remains Le Corbeau's chief fascination (several of its cast and crew were punished after the Liberation). But it's also a brooding, gripping thriller, whose tone and content anticipated those of Cold War film noir.

Clouzot, hitting a mood somewhere between Hitchcock and Lang, keeps us guessing until the very end with a plot that makes an M. Night Shyamalan movie look like a Roman road.

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