The Wages of Fear: No Exit
In a stark, forbidding prison, a nun ascends a staircase, framed by vertical bars, and walks down a corridor, unlocking cell doors. Women start coming out; two of them quarrel. Smoking on her bunk, one inmate sighs when told she has to go to court today. This is how we meet the main character of La vérité (1960), Dominique Marceau, and its star, Brigitte Bardot. The black-and-white photography, the nun’s ominous silhouette, the air of confinement all suggest a strong symbolic link between women, guilt, and punishment, especially as the scene ends on Dominique looking at herself in a shard of broken mirror. La vérité’s opening thus economically sets the tone before the film turns into a courtroom drama. Dominique is to stand trial for the murder of her boyfriend, Gilbert (Sami Frey). While we follow the legal proceedings, a series of flashbacks will take us through her short, unhappy life—her childhood with her parents in Brittany; her time living in Paris with her sister, Annie (Marie-José Nat), whom she deserts for a circle of raffish Latin Quarter bohemians; her tumultuous affair with Gilbert; and the destitute period after they split up, which leads to the tragic denouement: Dominique slashes her wrists (with another piece of broken glass) just before the verdict is rendered.
Gripping as its narrative is, La vérité goes beyond being a simple crime fait divers. Other women besides Dominique come under judgment in this film: female criminals of the era who inspired director Henri-Georges Clouzot and his team of scriptwriters; Bardot herself, who was then at the height of her stardom; the feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir—in fact, a whole generation of women who dared rebel against the patriarchal order in France’s troubled postwar era.
“Bardot’s image as an emblem of youthful rebellion offered Clouzot a chance to be recognized as a modern filmmaker, a way of defying the New Wave cinema that was then all the rage.”
“Through Bardot, La vérité channels an almost paranoid vision of the young generation and its trappings.”
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