Rene Clement start out as the Roberto Rossellini of France — his first feature, the heroic resistance tale, “La bataille du rail,” released in 1946, blends realism and artifice in a way quite close to “Rome Open City,” with which it shared the program at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival — but he ended up closer to George Stevens, as his films became more academic and bloated, and his vivid experience of the war was transformed into the self-consciously poetic “Forbidden Games” and the tedious spectacle of “Paris Is Burning.”
“Les Maudits,” which has been rechristened “The Damned” by the Cohen Film Collection for its first American home video release, comes after the collectivist heroics of “La bataille” (in which the railways workers union, a sponsor of the film, is celebrated as the savoir of France) and the deeply conservative “Le pere tranquille,” which imagined a resistance movement led by a cuddly paterfamilias (Noel-Noel)from a provincial town. Set aboard a U-Boat transporting a cadre of Nazi officers and high-ranking collaborations from Europe to South America, “Les Maudits” forgoes the reassuring heroics of Clement’s first two features as it wrestles with the notion that not every Frenchman fought back with courage against the occupying forces. The film, reviewed here in the New York Times, is a fascinating failure, riven with contradictions and evasions, and for that reason highly expressive of its historical moment. It would make a richly suggestive double bill with Raymond Bernard’s “Un ami viendra ce soir” (“A Friend Will Come Tonight,” also released in 1946), in which the operative metaphor is a madhouse, and the experience of the Occupation is likened to a schizophrenic episode. Doubtless there are countless other films from this fascinating period that readers can propose.