A sleepy French town is driven into paranoia and distrust by a nexus of anonymous poison pen letters signed by a nom-de-plume “Le corbeau” which means “the raven” in English, disclosing underhanded goings-on among the townsfolk, and it all starts with the first one accusing Doctor Rémy Germain (Fresnay) of adultery with Laura Vorzet (Francey), the much younger wife of his colleague Doctor Michel Vorzet (Larquey), as well as carrying out illegal abortions.
Soon audience will find out the adultery is as true as Rémy’s pro-choice predilection, and an obvious suspect, could be Marie Corbin (Manson), Laura’s spinster sister, a priggish and callous nurse working in the hospital. Capitalizing on an incident of a patient’s suicide (after Le corbeau informs him that he has the terminal cancer), the masses turn their backs on Marie, since no one wants their dirty little secrets becoming the laughing stock of the town, Marie becomes the whipping woman even without any substantial proof, there is definitely safety in numbers, a common mistake we onlookers should all rationally abstain from.
It goes without saying that the letters do not stop there, and at then the suspects are narrowed down to eighteen individuals sitting in the gallery of the church, among them there is Denise (Leclerc), Germain’s gimp neighbor who is so pining for him that le corbeau could be her own creation should be driven by jealousy and malice. A protracted dictation test to compare the handwritings of the said suspects with the original closes up short when Denise timely faints out of fatigue, and a subsequent discovery from Rémy almost catches her red-handed, it is only “almost”, because he might forget a simple fact: to imitate someone’s handwriting isn’t such a high-wire endeavor and no expert can ascertain that all those 1oo-plus letters cranked out in a short stretch are all from the same hand, in other words, everyone literate could be “le corbeau” if he or she is properly motivated, by circumspectly imitating these extant letters, a copycat can easily put words into the mouth of le corbeau. That is the most astounding truth mined by Clouzot and his co-writer Louis Chavance based on a real event occurred in Tulle, Limousin 1917.
For better or worse, Clouzot entertains his audience with the culprit flip-flop until the very last moment, during which the fast-paced twists pan out rather hastily to keep deliberation at bay, Equally, Laura’s ink-stained fingers and Denise’s slapdash’s pregnant threat are perfunctorily overlooked in lieu of the reveal and its resultant comeuppance, as is Rémy’s own impetus behind his actions.
Composed of a handsome cast: Pierre Fresnay’s Rémy is a suave, self-principled ramrod weighed down by his own cynical perspective; Ginette Leclerc’s recalcitrant hussy gallantly bestrides the line between eyebrow-raising and beguiling, and a voluble Pierre Larquey can be laughing all the way to the bank with his undimmed panache, save for the upshot, LE CORBEAU shapes itself as an allegorical study of sociology and human nature, a minor Clouzot in comparison nevertheless, is an engaging noir whodunit crafted with assurance and considerable oomph.
referential points: Clouzot’s DIABOLIQUE (1955, 9.2/10), David Finch’s ZODIAC (2007, 8.4/10)