Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Wages of Fear

Le Salaire de la peur; thriller-drama, France/ Italy, 1953; D: Henri-Georges Clouzot, S: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter van Eyck, VĂ©ra Clouzot
Italian Mario and French Jo are stuck in some Latin American country. They have no job, get into trouble often and are annoyed by tropical heat. Attracted by a huge salary of 2000 $, they accept a highly risky job of driving a truck full of nitroglycerin, a liquid that can explode on the slightest shake or vibration, that's supposed to be transported to an oil refinery in order to extinguish a fire. Mario and Jo in one, and Luigi and Bimba in the other truck set on a 300 miles long way, full of obstacles and bad roads. Luigi and Bimba's truck explodes, Jo dies, but Mario manages to arrive at the destination, delivering the nitroglycerin. But at the return back home, he becomes delirious and falls with his truck into a cliff.

It is interesting to note that quite often unknown directors sometimes deliver the best movies of all time. One of them is Henri-Georges Clouzot, a director hardly anyone mentions today, but who crafted a shining thriller drama, "The Wages of Fear" in 1953, without exaggeration one of the best movies of the 20th Century. Clouzot's magnum opus, "Wages" is even today a shocking and smashing film that needs nothing more than four drivers in two trucks full of explosive nitroglycerin traveling through a bumpy road, masked in a hybrid road movie-action thriller genre, subtly displaying existential problems, thereby inspiring some critics to interpret it as a critique of rich mega corporations exploiting poor citizens in the countries in South America. Already in the first scene in which cockroaches are wiggling in the sand does the director affirm the naturalistic tone of the story and deliberately keeps the first third calm and tranquil in order for the following two where the trucks full of nitroglycerin are traveling through dangerous roads seem even more intense. Some situations with its suspense almost reach Hitchcock's caliber (Mario slowly drives his truck forward, not noticing it got stuck on a rope that holds the ferry on which it stands; Jo notices a flash in the distance and by raising his head he notices the explosion in which the second truck was destroyed; Jo becomes sick from pressure and has to stop to calm down...) while flaws are rare, thus the movie quickly became a cult black classic.


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