A courtroom procedural, a family drama, a tale of impulsive and wayward youth, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s La Vérité is many things, not the least of which is it’s star, Brigitte Bardot. The Criterion Collection has a tradition of period Bardot illustrations on it’s covers. (Contempt, And God Created Woman) Their edition of La Vérité is no different. The image for this one—or at least the photo from which it’s created—was used for the original release, although I haven’t found the poster that uses exactly this painted version. (If anyone recognizes it, please let me know.)
The movie’s title translates as the truth. As the story unfolds, we see the truth, subjective as it is, as a weapon turned on anyone getting in it’s way. How best to present the title? The artwork is stark, dramatic and, well, Bardot. Competing with that face is a fool’s errand. The type should be evocative but not competitive. Best to back off and compliment what’s there. I looked at white title treatments as well as gray ones but they muddled the illustration and diminished the impact of the black background. Red seemed like the best choice for color. Symbolically it hits the right notes. (passion! blood!) Plus it shares the space with all that blackness without taking away from it —or her.
There’s a pleading quality to Bardot's face here so I tried a few solutions with the title close to her mouth — suggesting the truth was her’s to utter. That works. The ones at a larger scale superimpose the truth as a label for the movie. The truth in this configuration belongs as much to the story as a single character. That works too.
The serif samples, above, are something I drew up based on the movie’s main title card. You find a lot of typefaces like this in mid-century French films. There was a vogue for old style serif’s like Georg Trump’s Trump Medieval and this one shares those qualities. The painterly title treatment invokes a counterculture/protest vibe that, to me, was both simpatico with the cover portrait style as well as the discontents given voice throughout the movie. It would be another eight years before the youth of France would take to the streets but seeds of ‘68 are in evidence in la Vérité. The geometric sans serif has proportions more suited for signage than the printed page and so imparts an institutional quality. There’s a cold, objectivety to it. The consensus leaned toward a sans serif but one that didn’t go on top of the illustration as much. This version would have been lost had it been simply scaled down, so that led to the condensed sans serif that became the cover.
The typeface is Alternate Gothic. It has an unfussy, utilitarian affect. At this scale it shouts like a newspaper headline yet its also the kind of typeface one expects to encounter on any number of bland, ministerial forms of, say, a police department, a woman’s prison or the justice system. Name, address, date of birth, check all boxes that apply —that sort of thing. There are reams of paper evident throughout the film. We hardly get a close look at them except to see they’re all typewritten documents and forms. There are piles on the courtroom tables and under the arms of lawyers. The reports, the depositions, the motions, all of it comprising the truth in the form of paperwork underpins the courtroom scenes as supporting player. The cover, the packaging and the DVD menus for la Vérité are designed to support that through-line.