Tuesday 23 August 2022

An Overlooked Australian film (4) - DEVIL IN THE FLESH (Scott Murray, 1986)

Of all the Australian films that have made it into the various official selection sessions at Cannes, probably the most overlooked is Scott Murray's debut, and only, feature Devil in the Flesh.  Made in 1986 the film had its premiere as part of Critic's Week at Cannes that same year. The distributor of the film Hoyts Premium then its time, only releasing the film in 1989.

Devil in the Flesh was and remains a rarity, an adaptation to an Australian setting of a classic European novel of the same name by Raymond Radiguet. The book had been filmed by Claude Autant-Lara way back in 1947, starring Gerard Philipe  and Micheline Presle, and was a major success in its day. Almost simultaneously with Murray's film Marco Bellocchio also did an adaptation which also premiered at Cannes in 1986. 

No point here in analysing the changes made to settings from the novel and the Autant-Lara version except to say that Murray constructed a very thoughtful update in the times, changing it from an early 20th century locale to Australia during WW2.

Katia Caballero, Keith Smith, Devil in the Flesh

The film was highly praised by Rolando Caputo's entry in Australian Film 1978-1992: "From the opening image of a car moving into frame and taking with it the gaze of the audience into this imaginary world of the screen, Murray directs the drama with subtle and stylish delicacy. He is complemented by Andrew De Groot's brilliant cinematography which captures every nuance of colour - especiallystriking in the Balthus-inspired production design of Marthe's apartment - and aided by Philippe Sarde's quietly effective music score."

In the Oxford Companion to Australian Film Brian McFarlane is similarly enthusiastic: "...a comparative rarity in new Australian cinema in the way it directly confronts issues arising from sexual love. Scott Murray, editor of Cinema Papers directed his first feature film with a firm focus on this central governing idea, and this separates it somewhat from the rites-of-passage films common in the local film revival."

Katia Caballero, Keith Smith, Devil in the Flesh

The film was produced by the late John Murray whose body of work is currently being privately restored. The original cut was 104 minutes but the film was released in Australian cinemas at 99 minutes. The  2K restoration is hoped to produce a version corresponding to the original cut.

Previous entries in this series

The Golden Cage (Ayten Kuyululu)

The Phallic Forest (Kit Guyatt)

Aya (Solrun Hoaas)

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