April 30, 2008
The Alain Delon Collection
I think you'd need to be well over your mid-century mark to rise to attention at the mention of Alain Delon. This mildly famous (in America, that is; in Europe he achieved blockbuster status) French star, who rose to international prominence on the coattails of great films such as Rene Clement's Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) and Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, followed by The Leopard and Antonioni's L'Eclisse, was never much noted for his acting ability. Though he was a perfectly competent actor--sometimes much more than that--no matter what acting roles he or his directors or producers chose (he finally took over all three reins himself), nothing ever began to eclipse Delon's true ace in the hole: his amazing, downright staggering beauty.
That face--the body wasn't bad either--set hearts and lower extremities aflutter around the world. Delon also possessed a real charm, which he used in an interesting fashion from role to role--sometime more, sometimes less, often peeping out from under wraps, more often front and center. The charm seemed effortless, and it drew audiences to him as surely as has the charm of other popular actors from Gable and Grant to Clooney to DiCaprio. Yet none of these could match Delon for pure facial beauty. He was, for lack of a better comparison, the male Elizabeth Taylor. And as beautiful as he was, he still came across as a straight man--even when, in some of his film roles (Purple Noon, for instance) he played a bit toward bi- or pan-sexuality.
Most movie buffs will have seen Delon in one of more of the films mentioned above. Many of his smaller movies have been available on DVD in somewhat mediocre transfers for some time. Now, Lionsgate has brought together a package of five of his lesser-known films, very well transferred to DVD, under the title of The Alain Delon Collection--with that pretty face plastered in close-up on the box.
The series is definitely a mixed bag, though Delon fans and completists will not care one whit. The five films have been relegated to three DVDs, which makes the series more economical than it might have been but also pairs good films with not so good. Interestingly, the one film that has its own DVD--The Swimming Pool--is also the least of the lot, though it was a huge popular success in its day (1969). This film once again pairs Delon with Maurice Ronet, his Purple Noon co-star, whom some say walked away with the film, just as others insist that Jude Law stole The Talented Mr. Ripley (the late Anthony Minghella's 1999 remake) out from under Matt Damon. (I don't agree with either assessment. Both Ronet and Law were first-rate, but Delon and Damon remain the rightful stars.)
The Swimming Pool also features the gorgeous, cat-like Romy Schneider and a very young Jane Birkin and so does not lack for requisite glamour. But it remains one of those faux-decadent, haute-bourgeoisie outings that say very, very little (and take two hours to do it). Directed by journeyman Jacques Deray (Borsalino, Flic Story) and written by the talented writer/adapter Jean-Claude Carrièrre, the film is not uninteresting, but wears out its welcome around the halfway mark and never gets any stronger as it grows longer. The people on view are shallow indeed, and if the title had anything to do with the characters, they'd have called it The Wading Pool. The fashions are fun, however, and although the film is set around France's Cote d'Azure, it does not take all that much advantage of the scenery. But I guess there was no need--not with Delon, Ronet, Schneider and Birkin all dressed in bathing suits a good deal of the time.
A better bet is the disc that features a combo of The Widow Couderc, from 1971, and Diabolically Yours (1967). The former, directed and adapted by Pierre Granier-Deferre from a novel by Georges Simenon couples Delon with Simone Signoret--an odd pairing that works surprisingly well. The two actors have a definite chemistry together, even though their sex scenes are inferred rather than shown (due to the times, which were not quite ready for young-to-middle-aged man coupling sexually with a quite definitely older woman) Signoret was a fine, subtle actress and Delon rises to her level, keeping his charm, though not his sexuality, at bay and creating a character that is believable and oddly moving.
Diabolically Yours--a would-be mystery about an accident, amnesia, inheritance and other fairly typical plot devices--borders on camp, but since the sets and costumes offers a veritable primer on the fashions, cars, art and architecture of the sloppy/silly 60s, the movie proves wonderfully cheap fun. Here, Delon co-stars with the beauteous German actress Senta Berger under the direction/co-writing of Julien Duvivier (Pépé le Moko, La Bandera), who was clearly slumming or inordinately tired (he died in a car accident--at the age of 71--the year that this movie was completed). Delon and Berger might have made a sexy, entertaining pair, but via the manner in which the movie is told, they have no reason to connect to each other. And as the film moves along, with quite a few nitwit moments--including the "bombshell" ending--I suspect you'll laugh often and loudly.
Saving the best for last, we come to a couple of later Delon films: Our Story (1984), a funny but bizarre comedy-social/character study about men and women written and directed by the inimitable Bertrand Blier; and The Gypsy (1975), directed by the very interesting José Giovanni, who wrote the original book and subsequent screenplay to the famous prison movie Le Trou (The Hole).
Giovanni loved working with Delon; during his rather lengthy career, he also directed other fine actors like Jean Gabin, Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo. In The Gypsy--which gives a politically correct nod to the plight of the gypsies in France--Delon plays their bandit prince, sought after long and hard by local law enforcement. The film's second thread is that of a prime safe-cracker, also wanted by the law, and the trouble he is having with his wife. The two stories eventually converge, with chases, gunfire, betrayal and loss along the way.
A relatively standard, though quite enjoyable, crime flick, The Gypsyis notable for its cast: Delon, Annie Girardot and Renato Salvatori--a reunion of sorts fifteen years later for the stars of Rocco and His Brothers. Here the three are firmly into middle age, though Salvatori looks almost exactly as he did in the earlier film, except he's now photographed in color.
In the award-winning Our Story, Delon plays a grizzled alcoholic on the brink of disaster due to marital strife. Almost fifty himself, the actor and the role achieve a near-perfect match (Delon was awarded the Cesar for Best Actor for this film, while Blier won for Best Screenplay). If you're already a fan of Blier's work,Our Story is particularly recommended. If not, the movie may constitute a problematic starting point. It begins very well and stays on course for almost an hour and a half. Then, just when it should end, leaving us wanting more, instead it begins to drag on and on and on until it reaches a finale that is not unexpected but that ought to have happened a half-hour sooner.
Here, as so often, Blier toys with the roles of men and woman, and the clichés we demand and expect, and what happens when we don't get them (or worse, when we do). The movie is often hilarious, always quirky, and boasts a crack cast that includes Nathalie Baye and the very young Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Un Air de Famille) and Vincent Lindon. There are memorable scenes aplenty, and Delon is a revelation.
Posted by cphillips at April 30, 2008 2:40 PM