‘Le Corbeau’ explores the gray areas of morality
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Louis Chavance and Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, and Pierre Larquey
France, 92 min – 1943.
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau is a witch hunt. The site of this “hunt” is a small French town. A mysterious person has begun airing out the town’s immoral actions and secrets, in the form of letters, signed as “Le Corbeau” (the raven). The victim of these letters is Dr. Remy Germain (Pierre Fresnay), who is accused of performing abortions and having affairs with fallen women and married women alike. The townspeople ostracize Dr. Germain and others named by the raven. However, when a single letter causes the death of a hospital patient, townspeople mob against the likeliest culprits, all to save their community from slinking into the gray areas of morality.
One of the historically discussed themes of Le Corbeau deals with morality. It shows that this subject is not something that can be black or white. The raven originally does the town a service, by exposing sinners, in the hopes that they would end their escapades, or leave the town. It seems to be a moral cleansing to run Dr. Germain (suspected of performing abortions because he has the reputation of saving the mothers, not the babies, on the birthing table) out of town. Yet, when everyone in the town becomes affected, the townspeople focus their witch hunt on the raven, instead of the exposed. Their hypocrisy is blatant.
This questioning of morality came at a time in French history, when many people were doing just that. Le Corbeau was made for Continental, a German company, for which Clouzot worked. He was a collaborator and the film indirectly deals with this occupation, as the town is disordered by the control of the raven. Yet, it also does not judge either the raven’s victims or the townspeople themselves. The film asks, what is morality, when everyone, at some point, has acted against society’s conservative ethical standards? In this way, Le Corbeau presents a small exploration of humanity, as it tries to decide wrong from right, lust from love, sinner from saint, and raven from regular abiding citizen.
– Karen Bacellar