Scen.: Georges Franju, Jean Painlevé (commento). F.: Marcel Fradetal. M.: André Joseph. Mus.: Joseph Kosma. Int.: Georges Hubert, Nicole Ladmiral (voci narranti). Prod.: Paul Legros per Forces et Voix de France. 35mm. D.: 22’. Bn.
“The existence of slaughterhouses made me want to make this film; it was not wanting to make a film that took me to a slaughterhouse”. Le Sang des bêtes is known for the brutality of its images of slaughter, but its theme is first and foremost banality. Before he shows the reality of killing, Franju, with his experience in scientific films, shows the landscape and the instruments. Then it has to do with mass murder. As a co-founder of the Cinémathèque française, he couldn’t help bearing in mind the finale of the first grand work of cinema with a collective protagonist, Eisenstein’s Strike. But Le Sang des bêtes is a product of its time. Three years before, news footage showing the liberation of concentration camps had shocked audiences. The voiceover refers to it: the animals “follow like men, their lowing like the singing of hostages” and concludes: “they shall not hear the sound of prison gates closing upon them… tomorrow’s victims”. Words that the final lines of Night and Fog seem to echo.
There is not one shot that does not move us, almost without reason, solely through its stylistic beauty and great visual writing. Of course, the film is hard to bear. It will undoubtedly be accused of sadism because of the way it grabs hold of the drama with both hands without ever avoiding it. It shows us the killers without hate of which Baudelaire spoke. He shows us the sacrifice of innocent beasts. Sometimes it manages to generate tragedy with the terrible surprise of unknown gestures and attitudes that it brutally pushes us to face. The horse struck right on the head that falls onto its knees, already dead. The reflexes of decapitated calves that convulse and seem to struggle. In short, a noble and ignoble world that spills its last wave of blood on to a white tablecloth where the epicure is to think no longer of the suffering of the victims in whose flesh he plants his fork. Around the sacrificial table lies the city made up of several cities and villages, the city we think we know, and yet don’t know, its maritime and lugubrious sky over the disquieting setting of the Ourcq Canal.
Jean Cocteau, Sur Le Sang des bêtes, “Paris-Presse l’Intransigeant”, 8 September 1949; tr. eng. The Documentary Film Reader, edited by Jonathan Kahana, Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York 2006