One of the greatest contributions to the art of French cinema, Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Le Corbeau" (1943) tells the story of a small town inundated by letters from an anonymous sender operating under the curious name of 'Le Corbeau' - the raven. An enigmatic exploration of assumptions about gender, sexuality and authority, it is also a riveting mystery film whose key remains the question: who is the Corbeau? Seen by some as the ultimate collaborationist film and by others as a brilliant meditation on complicity and evil, "Le Corbeau" is situated by Mayne as a product of the French Occupation and as the emblematic film of French World War II cinema, and she illuminates the ways in which it has transcended its time. The French film industry survived and flourished under German rule and Mayne discusses the domination of the industry by Continental Films, the Nazi-owned film company for which Clouzot worked. She asks, crucially, how such a film came to be made, evoking as it does the intense paranoia of an era in which anonymous letters denouncing friends and neighbours were encouraged by the German occupier.
Yet, she also pays attention to the complex cinematic ways in which the film conjures up this paranoid climate, compelling the viewer into a world rife with sexuality, intrigue, suspicion and shadows.
Judith Mayne is Distinguished Humanities Professor and Professor of French at Ohio State University. She is the author of numerous books including Claire Denis and Framed: Lesbians, Feminists, and Media Culture.