Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Wages of Fear" by Henri-Georges Clouzot (1952)

I saw this film about 40 years ago in the Village in Manhattan, across the river from Brooklyn, where I lived. It held me mesmerized with its myriad of languages and cultural differences. Little did I know that in a few short years I would be one of the characters in a similar drama; many times; as I worked aboard oil-tankers, transporting millions of gallons of fuel on ships which were often crewed by merchant seamen who did not speak the same language as one another. When you’re working with millions of gallons of fuel, this can become a concern, and so you have to learn how to communicate; and trust; the people with whom you are working. This film has always reminded me of that. So, when it beckoned from the foreign film section of the library, it was a natural for me to pick it up and take it home.

I was very interested with how I might view it differently after all these years; as well as my own personal experiences. Not much has changed in my interpretation of the film. Basically it is the story of 4 men who work for an oil company in South America. They are tasked with the most dangerous mission of all; they are to transport the nitroglycerine which is needed at an oil field located in the jungle. To get there they will have to transport the volatile cargo over some very rough terrain.

The men are divided into two teams, each with a truck of nitro to deliver to the same location. The men develop a sort of rivalry between them; as they struggle not only against their own uncertainty about the mission at hand; but also begin to question the validity of their own motives in undertaking the job in the first place.
A lot of things have changed over the years, and the village life depicted in this film was largely on the way out when I was traveling. Still, I did get to a number of places which were almost identical to the villages and airstrips shown in the movie. And I met a lot of the same characters, too. Some were good; and some bad. I’m glad that I did. No doubt these places still exist, but they have grown fewer and further between. Also, at the time this film was made, donkeys and burros really did compete for space on the road and in the marketplaces.

Filmed using 4 different languages; including English in the appropriate parts; lends a reality to the film, as that is the way it is when working overseas. You either learn to communicate with one another; using a variety of methods; or you fail at your assignment. In the end it’s all about teamwork, and the desire to prevail. This film captures; perfectly; the grit of the do or die nature inherent in some of the hardest jobs on earth, as well as the motivations behind those who take on those tasks.

Note: I have aged since I last saw this film; and though I can still pick out parts of the foreign languages, I found the English sub-titles to be very helpful.

No comments:

Post a Comment