Tuesday 27 August 2019

For one night only in Sydney - PLEIN SOLEIL/FULL SUN (Rene Clement, France, 1960) - At the Golden Age Cinema on Wednesday 4 September at 8.30 pm…

Out of the blue..ho ho, the first, albeit  solitary, commercial cinema screening of a personal favourite, Rene Clement’s Plein Soleil, a wonderful movie from way back in 1960 when it’s release was mixed in among all those French New Wave movies flooding the miniscule number of art houses in Sydney and Melbourne.  For the untrained eye it seemed part and parcel of youthful anarchism, a devil may care view, tilting the nose at authority. 

It started my lifelong admiration for Patricia Highsmith’s writing which was something that I wrote about way back in 2000 in an early issue of Senses of Cinema. Here are the opening paras:

Sometime early in the ’60s I saw the poster image (left) of Alain Delon, stripped to the waist, impossibly handsome, at the wheel of a sailing boat, over the bold title Full Sun (not Purple Noon, as it was called in America). Then there was the film – a sleek glossy thriller, unlike any American film I knew, which to the innocent eye looked like a New Wave movie. It was a film whose characters have American names (like that of Charlie Kohler in Truffaut’s Tirez sur le Pianiste [Shoot the Pianist, 1960]). There was luscious location shooting, lots of slippery handheld camera work by Henri Decaë, loads of white and blue natural light. (Colour wasn’t a feature of the early New Wave pictures but I could not distinguish the films from each other then. After all, we were denied A Bout de Souffle [Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard, 1959] and any films by Rohmer or Rivette or Varda or Demy. For a while, those three little sex comedies with which Phillipe de Broca launched his career were, so were told, the essence of the French New Wave.) Full Sun (Plein Soleil, René Clément, 1959) featured an amoral hero of complete fascination. If ever a film turned an actor into a star it was this was one. Alain Delon as Tom Ripley seemed to epitomise so much beautiful grace, despite playing a character who was gauche and out of his depth socially. But his darting watchful eyes served a character who wanted to get inside other people’s skin. Delon was the epitome of the romantic bad boy at a time when amoral heroes in Chabrol’s films and Truffaut’s films were all the go – even without Belmondo’s Michel.
The source material only registered on a second viewing, a novel titled The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I started reading Highsmith at a rapid rate. At that time she had published seven or eight novels which she once described, very simply somewhere, as books in which she studied the effects of guilt on her characters. Whether her characters had committed a crime or not, did not make much difference. One of the exquisite ironies of her narratives was that sometimes the most innocuous and innocent act would have the most devastating consequences. In others, elaborate facades, inevitably leading to murder, were erected by people whose psychology was so far off the rails as to render them impervious to any thought of apprehension. The Blunderer, which had already been filmed in 1953 by Claude Autant-Lara (as Le Meurtrier, a film I’ve never seen), featured as its hero a man who buries a carpet in an attempt to simulate the feeling of burying his errant wife. This trivial stupidity leads to his doom. This Sweet Sickness, directed by Claude Miller in 1977, tells of a man who constructs an extraordinary separate existence for a woman who knows nothing of his infatuation.
Then there was the character of Tom Ripley, almost an antidote to the other Highsmith creations. Ripley is the street smart, smooth operator who feels no guilt at all, a man who can rationalise deceit, lies, criminal behaviour and even murder in a way not even the sharpest politician could equal. Highsmith’s opening lines of The Talented Mr Ripley quickly establish two things. Ripley is fearful of apprehension and he is already involved in a minor but elaborate piece of criminal confidence trickery.
 You can check out the whole piece if you click here.  

It was an admiration that actually caused me to call in on Highsmith after a letter to her publisher brought a response from a village somewhere near Fontainebleau outside Paris. I wasn’t there long but I still wonder whether I was the only Australian she ever met.

Now there’s a Sydney revival, a solitary screening at the boutique Golden Age Cinema, gthe former Paramount Pictures screening room in the depths of Darlinghurst. The cinema’s website has the details but doesn’t say just what exactly is being screened. You would hope it’s a restored digital copy but no claims are made for it in this respect.

It wasn’t the first Highsmith adaptation, that honour was snapped up by Hitchcock when he made Strangers on a Train. There have been many more, including a remake of “The Talented Mr Ripley” by Antony Minghella in 2000. Highsmith wrote five Ripley novels and there have been many screen Ripleys. He was the quintessential pushy, envious, American and it required a major leap of faith to accept Delon as Ripley and for the whole tale to be transposed into French acting and the French language. But Highsmith loved Delon in the role and even suggested to Wim Wenders that he should not bother with casting an American in the part just get Delon again for his adaptation of the second Ripley story, “Ripley’s Game”, re-titled to The American Friend.

If you have never seen this movie then go see it for a treat – a cinema de papa movie by an old wave master at the top of his form and served brilliantly by his cast and especially by the silky photography of Henri Decae. As I said, from out of the blue… 

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