Thursday, May 27, 2010

José Bénazéraf's Le concerto de la peur (1962)

Two kidnappings: one by Sacha (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) of Fred (Marcel Champel) whose brother is Eric (Hans Verner), a blind trumpet player and Sascha's rival crime boss and the other victim is Nora (Yvonne Monlaur), unwittingly wrangled into the scenario and housed at Eric's maison. An inevitable exchange will take place in the final act of José Bénazéraf's Le concerto de la peur (1962) which no one, the director, the characters, nor the viewer, is in a hurry to reach. Chet Baker again provided a score for Bénazéraf and perhaps unintentionally provided also the tempo. In fact, if the amazingly-talented Baker made the score up impulsively, then Bénazéraf found a fine bedfellow to score his film. Le concerto de la peur is a beautiful Bénazéraf film which pushes the limits of being languid, only because there is so much energy under its surface. The imagery, from a film maker whose work is a search for images, is gorgeous.
Nora spends her captive time in Eric's maison being tended at bedside by Vanda (Regine Rumen) who doesn't particularly care for Nora's presence. They have little to say to each other, and little to do. Vanda brings her a cup of tea or pours a bowl of soup on her, and the two have a fight. Bénazéraf wants to capture these two actresses, however, with his camera. (Rumen apparently was a famous dancer at the time in Paris. I found a few pieces of evidence corroborating this with the strongest piece here. According to that source, she died tragically a few short years after Le concerto.) Eric's sparsely-furnished home is cold, as it is evident in later scenes with the actors with their breath chillingly coming from their lips. Despite this cold, Bénazéraf clothes Rumen's Vanda in seemingly only a black raincoat and her stockings. Rumen is also strikingly beautiful with very hypnotic eyes that certainly entranced Bénazéraf. "So I started to direct movies as a 'boutade'--you know what that is?" asks Bénazéraf to an interviewer. "A whim?" responds the interviewer. "Yes, OK. So I started making movies as a whim. I liked pretty girls--which is a male reaction, but completely simple and elementary. So I started making movies with pretty girls in them. And, making movies with pretty girls, I found I put some erotic scenes in because it was quite...exciting, let's use the word. But every step of it was completely by accident." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995.) Eric's second, played by Michel Lemoine, visits a nightclub later in Le concerto to rendezvous with a contact. Not surprisingly, neither Lemoine nor his contact are focal in any composition. Rather the lady dancers are focal in the scene. It is a blatant opportunity for Bénazéraf to capture some images.The American version of Le concerto de la peur was released as Night of Lust. "[Dick Randall] was representing a guy in Los Angeles who was more or less a gangster (Bob Cresse). He wanted to buy a little film of mine called Concerto de la peur. To me it was new selling to the Americans. Be he paid me cash--10 or 15 thousand dollars. Not a lot of money but it was only a couple of weeks shooting. I made my films quickly even in those days. I asked him if he wanted a contract and he said, 'No--why bother?' He had a big success with that film in the States. It was called Night of Lust over there." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995.) According to Immoral Tales's authors, Cresse recut the film with R. Lee Frost shooting new footage. Night of Lust runs about twelve to fifteen minutes shorter than Le concerto with little dubbing of the French audio. The majority of the scenes have English voice-over narration describing the action with the occasional commentary. Cresse and company were going for the expose of the seedier side of Paris. The new footage is primarily every opportunity to provide a striptease, and Bénazéraf's loose narrative fueled the scenarios. Two very different films: one quiet, the other not.

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