I watched René Clair’s And Then There Were None over Easter, it’s the kind of film that works with a multi-generational audience and a gentle, detached take on one of Christie’s more… nihilistic works. François Truffaut may have dismissed later Clair as only making films for old ladies but André Bazin, founder of Cahiers, was more constructive in saying that Clair “…has remained in a way a film-maker of the silent cinema.” Which is very much the case for ATTWN… everything bad happens in shadowy silence with wordy Christie expressed succinctly with atmospherics.
Two decades before Clair produced his third feature film, La Proie du vent (The Prey of the Wind) which feels a bit like one of Agatha’s – a group of well-off people trapped in a large country pile with passions aflame, mystery and murder in the air – but which also presents as more modern that his later film. There’s more visual narrative content and the story is told through shots reflecting the players’ thoughts and mood with sparing use of inter-titles.
|Timeless silent technique|
Oh, and we get to see Lillian Hall-Davis’ shoulders… and more than that, one of the finest British actors of the period shows us a stillness and emotional flexibility that still sets her apart. She is timeless.
|Charles Vanel and plane|
We switch to the prisons of Libanie where a daughter, Hélène (Sandra Milowanoff),
fights for her mother’s life whilst her husband (Jean Murat) is released by the military junta. As her fellow prisoners round on her suspecting he may have sold their secrets to save his own skin, Hélène’s mother dies; Clair simply showing her crucifix slipped from her hand. Hélène puts the cross around her own neck, future very uncertain.
|From mother to daughter|
Hours later he wakes up bandaged in bed and looks across to see a beautiful woman sitting patiently by him, the Countess Catchiez (Lillian Hall-Davis) a vision of peace and hope. They are joined by her brother-in –law, the husband from the Libanie prison.
|Blown off course by the wind and crash-landing at the Castle|
One day he hears the sound of hammers on wood but is assured it’s only minor repairs…
|The Countess and the Pilot|
|The imagined room...|
|Key moments in the daydream|
|Hélène comes out of hiding...|
La Proie du vent might not be amongst the very best of Clair but it is a really enjoyable film all the same with substantial performances from the small ensemble led of course by the divine Lillian. As a lapsing Surrealist, Clair has something to say about the male instinct with his adventurer all too willing to play the lover or the rescuer of women and there’s an element of self-deception in both: which cigarette do you chose Pierre? We’re all prey to our emotional storms from time to time.
|On the run|
The version I watched was the 2009 restoration which comes complete with a specially-written score from Ibrahim Maalouf who plays it with a quintet of himself on trumpet, Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, Larry Grenadier on double bass, Clarence Penn on drums and Frank Woeste on piano.
These are jazz songs involving the feel of Miles Davis and which run intermittently along with the narrative. It’s mournfully impressive and whilst occasionally running over the action it works well in matching the overall mood. The soundtrack CD, called simply Wind, is available for download from eMusic or as a CD fromAmazon – likeable as a stand-alone experience. I’m playing my copy as I write!
Annoyingly, the film itseld doesn’t seem to be currently available on commercially and I am indebted to my friend Sandy in Paris for showing me her copy recorded off the television. Surely time for a box set along with Un chapeau de paille d'Italie and Les Deux Timides eh Lobster?