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Friday, 20 November 2015

The Duvivier Dossier (36) - Max Berghouse reviews Diabolically Yours

Diaboliquement Votre (Eng "Diabolically Yours"), Dir: Julien Duvivier, Scr: Jean Bolvary, Roland Girard and Julien Duvivier based on the novel "Manie de la Percecution by Louis C Thomas.

Cast: Alain Delon (Pierre/Georges),  Senta Berger (Christiane), Peter Mosbacher (Kim) and Sergio Fantoni (Freddie). Italian/French/West German co production. 93 minutes. 1967.

This is the director' s last film. He was fatally injured in a car crash shortly after production finished. Normally in the case of a director who has some knowledge of impending death, one would anticipate his final film or films to have at least some meditation on the prospect. There is absolutely nothing of the sort here in what should be considered a perfectly competent "European style" (translation more or less "art" film) made very much in the fashionable style of the late "swinging 60s" by a director with every expectation of continuing his lifelong work of pretty much one film every year.

It is only his second film in colour and he and his director of photography (Henri Decae) show a much more subtle use of the potential of colour than many directors of the same period. Colour is natural towards very slightly washed out without any of the psychedelic intensity of some comparable films. The credits at the beginning of the film seem somewhat lighter in mood than the film we get to see. It commences with a very well produced point of view seen of a "motor-vehicle" screaming down a country road to be ultimately involved in a crash. Some critics have alleged that this is a sign of carelessness by the director in that such a car crash could not have so seriously injured the protagonist (Pierre) without at the same time injuring Christiane, his wife. Yet the engine sound is one of a motorbike (at least to me) so I don't think this criticism is warranted.

Criticisms like these are fairly easy to make because the general plot is substantially unbelievable. It seems to me no more unbelievable than many, many thrillers I have seen in my life and as I am writing with the expectation of the latest James Bond film being released, I submit this latter is a perfect example of a film in which non-believability is effectively pasted over by action and movement. The real problem is that as a thriller, this film moves relatively slowly and methodically: it is a "slow burn". I make the gratuitous comment that a multi-nation production with lead actors each speaking a different native tongue, cannot necessarily have helped fluidity and continuity.

Following the well executed crash, the scene shifts to a hospital where the protagonist called by his "wife", "Georges" has his bandages removed after a three-week stay in hospital. The protagonist is Alain Delon whose face, freed from bandages, appears to have 5 o'clock shadow and absolutely no bruises. Even pandering to the fact that the actor, an extraordinarily handsome man, and at the height of his star appeal, would presumably not have wished to look "more human" i.e. physically damaged, it is a very real lapse. All I can say is that if I looked half so good as he at this moment, at any time in my life, I would be a happy man indeed. He is suffering from amnesia and taken home to his country château by his wife (whom of course he doesn't recognise), a place of outstanding luxury which again he does not recognise.

I had now best reveal the plot. (Spoiler Alert). The "wife" together with her lover, wish to procure the death of "Georges" (whom we subsequently learn is a washed out alcoholic former soldier, Pierre). France then was a country which had quite rigourous identity procedures and everyone carried an identity card. So it would have been manifestly easy for Georges to ask to see his wallet. By killing the apparent Georges, the real Georges and Christiane will be able to escape the fraudulent consequences of the real Georges' behaviour in the Far East.

Slowly but certainly methodically, matters proceed by continuing incidents that don't add up. It would not be correct to say that these are heightened as they proceed. Instead they accumulate. Because of this substantially flat and linear development, it is easy to see why many critics found the plot generally creaky. I was inclined to share this view but on reflection I wonder whether the plot is the significantly important part of the film. Georges/Pierre has to content with a completely solitary search for self. Who am I? What is the nature of identity? What is it like to confront a generally hostile world without even the certainty of knowing who I am?

The feeling of nihilism this causes one to confront, seems to me to be quite consistent with the increasingly darkening pessimism of the director. And because the action is played out in a "flat" fashion, with each threatening incident following another, but not heightened one to another, it seems like real time. There is no breakthrough in understanding, Georges is left to try and work out what is going on from a panoply of incidents, none of which makes any particular sense.

Assuming my interpretation is correct, then this is a quite serious film, wrapped in the envelope of a standard thriller. So while I don't consider it exemplary, I did consider it a very worthy, perhaps fitting, finale to the director's career.

Duvivier in my view generally extracted better performances from his male rather than his female actors. Alan Delon to me appears adequate but it is really very hard to imagine such a good-looking man, the bulk of whose work has him playing very much a commanding/in charge figure, as a man out of his depth. There are some scenes which show him outdoors in a pale blue tracksuit which I thought made him look like a child just out of bed in his pyjamas! Perhaps he was! I don't think the 60s style which I guess is very accurate does the film any particular justice although it may be that it is just too recent to be seen as "historical".

Senta Berger who has had an outstandingly long and successful career in both theatre and cinema, is very weak. This may be language or it may be the effective mannerisms of a "filmstar" rather than actor. All the other actors are adequate.

There is a subplot which goes nowhere of a sadomasochistic, nonsexual relationship between Christiane and Kim (the Chinese manservant). Little effort was made to make the German actor Peter Mosbacher look convincingly oriental.

There is a "surprise" ending which most viewers will see coming but it allows for the possibility of multiple interpretations of what will come after the film ends. This is typically European and something I find very satisfactory, but others may not.

The sets are perfect for the period. The château for example while French baroque as to the exterior has modern (for the 60s) furniture and fittings. All the scenery is perfectly captured by the great cinematographer Decae. Musical score by François de Roubaix is equally competent and assured.

"Assured" and "professional" seemed to me the most characteristic aspect of this wholly worthwhile film.

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