Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear)
1953 Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Starring Yves Montand
"I would like to portray human's drama," once I told the vice-chief editor of a certain comic magazine of Kadokawa Shoten Publishing, who responded to me, "That would be a human drama if there is human being in it?" I thought in my mind, "It's not true."
The reason why I thought like that way is I watched The Wages of Fear some time before and was shocked at it.
This is one of the movies that had a decisive influence on the human depiction in my comics.
It is an old, monochrome French cinema.
My father is a movie lover and often watched old movies as they were broadcasted. Those days I was too young to understood well, but watched them with him anyway. As for The Wages of Fear, I remember to have watched it several times like that when I was a kid.
However, when I became an adult and watched the film again, I got a completely different impression.
I thought real men were depicted here.
The scene of the movie is laid in Las Piedras in Venezuela, South America.
A young French Mario (Yves Montand), who becomes homesick, jobless, and just idles his time away, meets an elderly man Joe, who is also a French and came to the town.
With a splendid appearance, Joe had committed a certain illegal crime in fact to be ousted, and had wandered to arrive at this remote district without one penny.
Mario who accompanies majestic Joe arouses the antipathy fro his best friend Italian Luigi and the regular customer of a bar, and gets isolated. Mario is increasingly fascinated with Joe. During a quarrel in the bar, a guy pointed the pistol at Joe, who did not flinch at all.
Such character sketch in the first half is fairly long and might let you sleepy, but it is effective in the development of the second half.
Then, a disastrous fire occurs in the oil field that separates 500 km from the town. Four men are employed in order to carry nitroglycerine for fire extinguishing. The incentive fee is US$2,000 per driver.
Nitroglycerine causes loud explosion with a little impact. They split up in two ordinary tracks without any shock absorbers and carry it. Mario and Joe dream escape from the town by making a fortune at a stroke. Luigi got pneumoconiosis and was told the rest of his life was six months. Bimba is a survivor of Nazis concentration camps. They get in two tracks and start.
… If you read so far and felt like watching this movie, maybe you had better not read the following sentences. I have written the plot to the end, so please read the rest in self-responsibility.
All difficulties block two tracks.
Fear next to death strips men's affectation off and exposes their true characters.
Joe, who looked grand so much, is a mere shadow of his former self get reduced to a cowardly old man. By contrast, as seeing dangers, Mario becomes coldhearted and offensive.
Conversely, Luigi keeps the very same cheerfulness as usual. His partner Bimba, though silent, stays prideful.
The first truck of Luigi and Bimba explodes. Joe looks at it, gets frightened, and escapes from his truck. Mario runs after Joe, beats him and takes him back. Their friendship broke down and the position was reversed completely.
The explosion destroyed all around the place. The pipeline that runs along the road was broken, creating the pond of crude oil. While going through the pond, Joe who got off to guide fell and Mario left coldheartedly. Joe gets seriously injured his leg, which is now almost torn off.
Close to the destination of the oil field, Joe is getting weak and tries hard to remember the scenery of Paris where he lived once.
"What was on the other side of that wall...?" "Yes!"
"It was a vacant lot." Joe breathes his last.
Mario holds Joe tight and sobs.
This scene has man's truth that can't be measured by whitewashing or an aesthetic sense.
Mario, who arrived alone at the oil field in disastrous fire, is greeted as a hero.
Mario receives the check for 4000 dollars including Joe's reward, elated at it, and doesn't keep in his mind about the fear till then or having lost his best friend any more. As he happily drives meandering the unloaded truck, it falls from a cliff accidentally. Mario dies, too.
You might simplistically take from this title with such ending what the film tells would be "the wages of fear is death." You might think he had suffered such troubles to clear the difficulty and then the result was like this?!
When I watched it in 1988, the only part I couldn't understand easily was the ending, but after that I reconsidered and came to think probably the ending doesn't have deep meanings.
However, the director Henri-Georges Clouzot might feel the happy ending where the hero gets a lot of money is "not right."
It seems me that French cinemas often make their endings unclear and they tend to leave man's viewpoint distantly at the last moment and frame men's lives from the height of God.