Lovers Michel Auclair and Cécile Aubry escape France, 19 October 2015
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From director Henri-Georges Clouzot comes the film noir, "Manon", inspired by the novel "Manon Lescaut", which was written by Abbé Prévost. The film is set in 1944 toward the end of the war and thereafter.
This film is classic noir through and through: photographically, in story and in themes. It’s very well done, a visually beautiful film of a tragic and unusual story.
The film opens at night with a ship taking on board Jewish refugees headed for Alexandria, their destination being Palestine. Lovers Michel Auclair and Cécile Aubry (Robert and Manon) are discovered as stowaways and they relate their story in flashback to the captain up until the 68-69 minute mark at which point the narrative proceeds in the present. Early on, we are told that Robert is fleeing from a murder charge.
Their back story begins with Robert as a member of the Resistance pushing back the Germans who are retreating under American pressure. There are bombs falling and wrecked buildings everywhere. When the Germans are overcome, there is some dancing in the street but the dark force of retribution against collaborators arises. Manon is taken prisoner and destined to be shaved and humiliated. Robert is assigned to guard her. The result, however, is that they are strongly attracted to one another and escape to Paris where Manon’s brother, Leon (Serge Reggiani) lives and thrives in the black market.
Their love comes under severe pressure. Manon’s impoverished youth drives her to expensive tastes but Robert has no work that can afford them. Manon hides from Robert that she is slipping back into the easy way to make money at a fancy brothel. Leon wants Robert out of the way of him and his sister. Robert has interfered with Leon’s boss in the black market.
The ship’s captain relents and lets them off with the other refugees outside Alexandria. Their next challenge is to cross the desert.
The love of Robert and Manon for one another is extremely strong. It survives the obstacles in its path, from outside but also from the lovers themselves and their personalities. Only death can sever it -- or transform it into something immune to misfortune.