Manon Through the Lens of Clouzot (1948): ‘images troublantes et précises’
University of Exeter
French Cultural Studies
If cinema may potentially recast what is most fundamental to literature, Henri-Georges Clouzot's version of Prévost's Manon Lescaut assumes its duty to show the once hidden heroine by transferring the novel to the early days of post-war France. Following an analysis of Maupassant's critique of the novel, in which he proposes the heroine as a disembodied and mythical seductress, this article examines how eighteenth-century illustrations offer an alternative narrative to the text's monological account of infidelity. Hair emerges as a sign of desire and specularity, a combination that Clouzot's film develops at the level of both narrative and image. Profiting from the demands of the mainstream cinematic apparatus and his modern mise-en-scène,the director uses his heroine's hair to signal her metamorphosis from collaborator to prostitute to victim. Clouzot's adaptation is seen not as a betrayal of Prévost's novel, but as an example of the mythology of its heroine.
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