LE DIABLE AU CORPS
(Devil in the Flesh)
Director: Claude Autant-Lara
Production: Transcontinental Films; black and white, 35mm; running time: 110 minutes. Released 1947.
Screenplay: Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, from a novel by Raymond Radiguet; photography: Michel Kelber; editor: Madeleine Gug; production designer: Max Douy; music: René Cloërec.
Gérard Philipe (
); Micheline Presle (
); Denise Grey; Jean Debucourt.
Autant-Lara, Claude, Le diable au corps , Paris, 1984.
Philipe, Anne, and Claude Roy, Gérard Philipe: Souvenirs et temoignages , Paris, 1960; revised edition, 1977.
Sadoul, Georges, Gérard Philipe , Paris, 1967; revised edition, 1979.
Perisset, Maurice, Gérard Philipe , Paris, 1975.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946, Volume 1: The Great Tradition , New York, 1976.
Cadars, Pierre, Gérard Philipe , Paris, 1984.
Autant-Lara, Claude, Le bateau coule: discours de réception à l'Académie des beaux-arts , Paris, 1989.
Jeanne, Rene, and Charles Ford, "Styles du cinéma français," in La Livre d'or du cinéma français 1947–48 , Paris, 1948.
Philipe, Gérard, "In the Margin," in Sequence (London), Spring 1949.
Billard, Ginette, "Gérard Philipe," in Films and Filming (London), October 1955.
Durgnat, Raymond, "The Rebel with Kid Gloves," in Films and Filming (London), October and November 1960.
Autant-Lara, Claude, "Comment j'ai pu realiser Le diable au corps ," in Ikon (Milan), January-March 1972.
Autant-Lara, Claude, "La Chasse aux escargots," in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Spring 1973.
Oms, Marcel, "La Parole est à Claude Autant-Lara" (interview), in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), Summer 1973.
Dazat, O., "Lecons de morale," in Cinematographe (Paris), June 1986.
Oms, M., in Nosferatu (San Sebastian), no. 10, October 1992.
Jeune Cinéma (Paris), January/February 1997.
* * *
Le diable au corps was certainly the French film of 1947. Winner of several European awards, the film was also banned in communities across the Continent. While a proud tribute to the French literary tradition, it posed as the most avant-garde example of postwar cinema in that country.
There is no paradox here, for the aesthetic ideology of the "cinema of quality," of which this film serves as an outstanding example, openly mixes an interest in iconoclastic subject matter, high art tradition, and a refined studio treatment. Aurenche and Bost's careful reworking of a youthful and rebellious novel points up its key social and psychological oppositions. Claude Autant-Lara was then able to put these oppositions into play through the psychological realism of his handling of actors, and through the narrational commentary wrung out of decor, music, and cinematic figures.
Their grim intelligence and determined passion made Gérard Philipe and Micheline Presle an instantly legendary couple; he as a precocious teenage malcontent, son of an upright bourgeois, she the older woman whose husband is off at the front in World War I. Autant-Lara evinces sympathy for their questionable moral position by rendering the action through a series of flashbacks from the boy's point of view. The war is over and the town celebrates the return of its veterans, but he must hide in the room of their forbidden love and go through the anguish of recalling that love. This flashback structure, together with the doomed love of the couple, reminded critics of Le jour se lève , and made the public see Gérard Philipe as the heir of Jean Gabin. But the limpid expressiveness of the prewar realism had been complicated after the war. Philipe's gestures were calculated to display his passion and anguish, whereas Gabin had moved and spoken instinctively, without the hesitation of either good taste or intelligence, hallmarks of the postwar style. The same holds true for the direction. While Carné and Prévert had devised a number of highly charged objects, Autant-Lara multiplies effects wherever he can. The incessant play of reflections in mirrors and by the ferry insists on the significance of the drama, but does so from the outside. Similarly the famous 360-degree camera movement that circles the bed of the couple's lovemaking demands to be noticed as a figure supplied by an external narrator, especially since it begins on a crackling fire and ends on dying embers. This is more than a metaphor for passion, it is a poetic display that lifts an ordinary drama into telling significance.
Altogether Le diable au corps stuns its audience with the cockiness of its presentation as well as with the audacity of its subject matter. This is its conquest as well as its loss; for in only a few years the New Wave critics, led by Truffaut, would clamor for the downfall of psychological realism and of the paternalistic, elitist narration that preaches a liberal morality. If Radiguet, the novelist, likewise condemned a suffocating society, he did so from within, from the perceptions and language of his hero. Autant-Lara has used Radiguet's rebelliouness, has packaged it approvingly, but has made of it a mature, stylish film. Radiguet, legend has it, put everything of himself into this novel and then died. The movie pays tribute to his effort and his views, but is just another very good movie.