August 12, 2019  (Web Review)

La Prisonniere

Kino, 106 min., in French w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

The final completed feature by Henri-Georges Clouzot finds the acclaimed director of thrillers and dark dramas (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique) moving into the permissive 1960s with this 1968 psychological drama set in the world of high art, erotica, and games of sexual control. Art gallery owner Stanislas (Laurent Terzieff) produces a show spotlighting modern art but his private passion is photographing women in bondage. José (Elisabeth Wiener), a filmmaker working on a TV documentary about domestic abuse, becomes fascinated with his work and is drawn into his games of domination and submission. As she falls in love with Stanislas, her artist boyfriend Gilbert (Bernard Fresson) starts following her to find out about her secret life. Clouzot seems to be trying to stay relevant and modern but—despite all the taboo sexual themes—his story is ultimately about the age-old subjects of love, intimacy, and desire. José is excited and disturbed by her enjoyment of these sexual games while Stanislas is more comfortable with sex at a distance than true intimacy and commitment. Clouzot made La Prisonniere after falling ill while shooting his unfinished film Inferno and it remains visually compelling, from the bold modern art pieces in the gallery to an abstract dream sequence incorporating experimental imagery developed for Inferno. Dramatically and psychologically, however, it is less satisfying, feeling more like an oddball time capsule from the era of cinematic experimentation inspired by the French New Wave. Extras include audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, an interview with Wiener, and a booklet with an essay by film critic Elena Lazic. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)