Sunday 9 February 2020

A New Film a Day (9) - ON NE MEURT QUE DEUX FOIS/HE DIED WITH HIS EYES OPEN (Jacques Deray, France, 1985)

Much nostalgia here because this film was made only a few years before Jacques Deray bobbed up in Sydney for the then rather different iteration of The French Film Festival. But I digress.... I walked with Deray from his hotel on Darling Harbour over to a place in Chinatown that was then the hot cafe of the day. The great man was well and truly out of breath when we sat down for a splendid lunch...

Deray remained at the top of his career at the time. His big hits La Piscine (1969) and  Borsalino (1970), both made with Alain Delon and what followed,  had him at a career point as one of the go to men for French thrillers, cop stories and action. He rarely let you down and made a classy film every couple of years using the biggest stars and collaborators of the commercial French cinema.

It must have been interesting for him to turn his attention to On Ne Meurt Que Deux Fois. The credits say its an adaptation of "He Died with his Eyes Open" by Robin Cook, though the book was first published in England under the authorship of one 'Derek Raymond'. It was the first of a grim series of police procedurals written by Cook/Raymond which on occasion described human behaviour of a quite disgusting kind. I shall say no more and I don't have sufficient memory to recall any more impressions of the book and certainly none of the incidents contained therein. I assume that Deray and his co-writer Michel Audiard stuck closely enough to Raymond's plot including (Spoiler Alert) the final revelation of incest between the alluring Charlotte Rampling and her brother played by Xavier Deluc.

The main point of interest is the cop, Inspector Stanilard played by the shortish Michel Serrault as a near psychopath, which was certainly what Raymond had in mind. Stanilard has an idiotic assistant played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin (who still had a fine fluffy head of hair back in the day). Don't expect a police procedural in the manner of Engrenages/Spiral because Stanilard  never goes near the office, preferring to hang out in the murdered man's flat and listen obsessively to vulgar sex tapes (audio only). Gradually Stanilard is convinced that Rampling's confession of the murder is true but he takes a long time to prove it. Meanwhile she goes about her businesss, which includes seducing Stanilard.

All this is played with a certain serious intensity and is never boring. Rampling spends a lot of time naked, her trope du jour I suppose. The film was nominated for eight Cesars though not for Best Picture. Jean Penzer's cinematography took out the only prize.

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