French director Henri-Georges Clouzot was already one of the greats of French cinema before he made his 1960 drama La Vérité. The acclaimed director had already helmed such classics as Le Corbeau, The Wages of Fear, and Diabolique. Perhaps no project of Clouzot’s illustrious career generated as much attention as his 1960 courtroom drama starring French bombshell Brigitte Bardot. Clouzot’s film which was in development for years before starting a grueling six-month production now lands on Blu-ray in the Criterion Collection with a crisp new 4k transfer. What is widely considered to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s last hurrah gets an edition that honors the legacy of the famed director and his iconic screen star.
In a Parisian courtroom, Maître Guérin (Charles Vanel) prepares to defend Dominque Marceau (Bardot) on charges of murder. Seeking to imprison Dominque for the rest of her life is the prosecuting attorney Maître Éparvier (Paul Meurisse). In front of the judge, jury, and the prying eyes of the public, every little detail of Dominque’s life will be examined as they determine her guilt or innocence in the death of Gilbert Tellier (Sami Frey). La Vérité uses the courtroom setting as a way to parse through all the details leading up to murder, and the film unfolds mostly in flashbacks through testimony in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of aspects of Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution.
The prosecution goes back to the Dominque’s youth in the town of Rennes where she was the black sheep of the family, living in the shadow of her sister Annie (Marie-José Nat). When Annie moves to Paris, Dominque soon follows and the two sisters don’t get along too well living under the same roof. The sibling rivalry escalates when Annie’s current beau Gilbert gets a glimpse of the seductive Dominque and becomes infatuated. The sibling rivalry is framed as a motivating factor in the murder, an escalating jealousy between sisters that culminates in cold-blooded murder.
Her relationships – be they sexual or platonic – with men like Michel (Jean-Loup Reynold) and Ludovic (André Oumansky) are presented before the court as evidence as to Dominique’s immorality, positing that a sexual active woman has the moral deficiency equal to that of a murderer. Watching these scenes are chilling because the guilt of Dominque has yet to be determined but the pressing of her sexual activities as evidence as to the absence of morality rings relevant today as we often see victims of sexual assault and other crimes subjected to the same attempts at character assassination.
Henri-Georges Clouzot and his co-writers (all five of them) do such a great job at subverting the viewer’s expectations as to how a story like La Vérité should unfold. Viewers love to try and piece together all the clues and try to stay a step ahead of the story, but it’s impossible to do that with La Vérité as it’s so strongly constructed that Clouzot and his collaborators know just what you’re think and are operating five moves ahead of you. It all culminates in a series of revelations that are simultaneously surprising and heartbreaking.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of La Vérité is the way in which Henri-Georges Clouzot is able to turn Brigitte Bardot from being simply a sexpot to an actress able to carry a serious drama about possessive, unhealthy relationships twisted in with murder. Pushing the sex symbol in the direction of serious acting, though, doesn’t mean that Clouzot doesn’t utilize Bardot’s sex appeal – she’s simply stunning to behold in the film and her allure is a key element of her character. Between Bardot’s highly sexualized presence and the attempts at character assassination for her character’s sexual activities, leaves La Vérité with a fascinating moral position, one that knows that the sexual mores of the past are nearing the end of their life while society as a whole is still governed by the outdated old guard who conflate monogamy with morality.
Aside from the flawless 4k restoration of the film, the Criterion Collection edition of La Vérité features an hour-long documentary on the life and career of its director Henri-Georges Clouzot. The director is also featured on an archival interview from 1960 from around the time of the highly publicized release of the film. The star of La Vérité is also featured in the supplemental features in a 1982 interview from the documentary Brigitte Bardot telle qu’elle. Finally, the disc comes with a booklet featuring an essay from film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.
This latest edition of La Vérité is why so many film lovers are obsessed with the Criterion Collection. It’s a stellar film featuring a screen icon and the work of a legendary director, but it’s not one of the director or star’s most famous works and likely to slip through the cracks of film history if not for the dedication of Criterion’s team. La Vérité is a film that pushed the boundaries of its era, a scathing examination of the way in which patriarchal societies exert control over women through hypocritical moralizing. The themes explored in La Vérité are still relevant today, and now a whole new generation of film lovers can discover the haunting power of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterwork thanks to the Criterion Collection.
A captivating courtroom drama from director Henri-Georges Clouzot starring Brigitte Bardot, La Vérité remains thematically relevant and arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning new transfer from the Criterion Collection.