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Alain Delon stands apart as one of the most successful French actors internationally, despite never having truly cracked the American market. Starting in classics like Purple Noon and Rocco and his Brothers, he rose to iconic greatness in crime thrillers, especially those of Jean-Pierre Melville. Viewers who have seen only Le samouraï or his East-meets-West western Red Sun can be forgiven for thinking that Delon has only one facial expression.
Delon maintained a busy career, starring in and producing pictures while dodging various scandals that added to his reputation as a man of mystery, hiding corrupt secrets. Lionsgate has assembled an Alain Delon - Five Film Collection comprised of features from the enormous Canal + catalog. They vary from so-so to excellent, and display Delon as a performer more versatile than he's usually given credit for. All are unfamiliar to U.S. audiences.
1967's Diabolically Yours (Diaboliquement vôtre) has a terrific pedigree. It's the last film of director Julien Duvuvier, the French master of classics like the 1936 Le Golem, Pépé le Moko, Un carnet de bal, The Great Waltz, Tales of Manhattan, Flesh and Fantasy and The Devil and the Ten Commandments, in which Alain Delon made an appearance. Unfortunately, Diabolically Yours is a weak mystery that cribs its central idea from Joseph H. Lewis's film noir classic My Name is Julia Ross. Delon plays Georges Campo, a wealthy businessman who wakes up from an auto accident suffering from amnesia. While recovering, he's surprised to learn that he's married to the beautiful Christiane (Senta Berger). His confusion is compounded by both her behavior and that of his best friend and doctor, Freddie (Sergio Fantoni). Sure enough, Georges is the patsy of an elaborate identity-switch, a scheme that's resolved in double-crosses and murder.
Lazily filmed (by the famous Henri Decaë) around an impressive chateau with just those three characters (plus a 'sinister' Chinese servant played unconvincingly by a German actor), Diabolically Yours is hardly a mystery at all. The screenplay and acting telegraph the subterfuge from the very beginning: Christiane makes excuses not to sleep with her husband, or even embrace or kiss him. "Georges" realizes early on that he's a casual prisoner and eventually finds -- ta da! -- a tape recorder under his pillow, playing a recording that urges him to commit suicide. The rushed finale resolves the barest story necessities and little else.
Most of the interest in 1969's The Swimming Pool (La Piscine) is on the visual level. Once again restricted to a single setting, it's a character study of wealthy and beautiful Dolce Vita types at a dazzling vacation house in the hills above St. Tropez. Jean-Paul (Delon) is a troubled writer on holiday with Marianne, his girlfriend of two years (Romy Schneider). The first act shows them making love with abandon in the house, the pool and any other convenient corner of the property. Some voyeuristic thrills ensue as Jean-Paul whips the naked Marianne in the gazebo with a switch from a vine.
Then visitors drop in, radically altering the chemistry. A fancy Ferrari pulls up, bearing Harry (Maurice Ronet, Delon's co-star in Purple Noon) and his nubile daughter Penelope (60s celebrity actress Jane Birkin). Jean-Paul is immediately smitten by the innocent Penelope, and jealous of Harry's easy familiarity with Marianne. Harry and Marianne were once an item, and Harry boasts that he could have her back if he wanted her. The situation simmers while the members of this four-sided triangle express various unhealthy desires.
Using the 60s excuse that "Being an art film means never having to resolve a conflict", La Piscine moves to a violent episode and a drawn-out investigation by Inspector Leveque (Paul Crauchet) that more or less goes nowhere. One character confesses the truth to another, but the ending is fashionably vague. La Piscine is a good opportunity for lonely guys to daydream about the marvelous Romy Schneider, but is otherwise utterly forgettable. It's almost as if Delon suggested to his ex-girlfriend Schneider and his old buddy Ronet that they do a no-strain 'summer vacation' movie as a lark. Delon and Ronet's main confrontation even seems a lazy repeat of a situation from Purple Noon. Delon and director Jacques Deray would do far better with their next film Borsalino, one of the biggest French hits ever.
Things improve radically in Pierre Granier-Deferre's 1971 Alain Delon starring vehicle The Widow Couderc (La veuve Couderc), an interesting story from a novel by Georges Simenon (En cas de malheur, The Brothers Rico, The Man on the Eiffel Tower). The setting is rural France in 1934, depicted as a backwater of greed, bigotry and general intolerance. Drifter Jean Lavigne (Delon) takes a farmhand job with the widow Couderc Tati (Simone Signoret). He's an escapee fresh from twelve years behind bars; she's the victim of greedy in-laws who want to take away her house. The widow began as a maid and then married into the family, and her relatives have wanted to be rid of her ever since her husband died. and aren't above coaching the near-senile Henri (Jean Tissier) to denounce her. The widow hides Jean's pistol and is soon sleeping with him. Although her feelings are hurt, Ms. Couderc eventually accepts Jean's attraction to her in-laws' nature-girl daughter, Félicie (Ottavia Piccola). The barefoot Félicie wanders about breastfeeding her out-of-wedlock baby and sleeps with whatever man pleases her.
Granier-Deferre makes good use of the attractive locale. A barge canal provides a barrier between the widow's farmhouse and her vicious relatives. The barges drift along, often seen from angles that make them look as if they were sailing through green grass. Shunned by her neighbors, the widow washes her clothes in the canal water. For a time Jean and his lady boss form a positive relationship. He's handy with gadgets (we're told that he was studying to be a doctor before he murdered a man) and repairs a gas-powered egg incubator for her. The farm might make some money after all.
The bitter in-laws have other ideas, as does society at large. Unaware of Jean's notoriety, they try to have him charged as a thief and a rapist. The situation instead balloons into a political opportunity for several levels of law enforcement. Dozens of officers surround the house. The local right-wing militia volunteers its help, assuming that their quarry is a Communist or a Yugoslav. The Widow Couderc posits its fugitive Lavigne as the victim of an unjust Society. Newspapers refer to corruption scandals and the notorious Stavisky Affair . In one scene, anti-Semitic graffiti painted on the walls of a church goes unchallenged.
As an outsider in a sleepy farming hamlet, Delon has much more of a definite character to play than is usual. Ms. Signoret is marvelous. Although no longer a beauty, we're easily convinced that she's capable of coaxing the handsome Delon into her bed. Ottavia Piccola is an interesting child-woman. As the dotty old man, Jean Tissier seems really surprised to discover that his roost as Ms. Couderc's lover has been usurped by an attractive stranger. What's the world coming to?
1975's The Gypsy (Le Gitan) is a welcome surprise, a fast-moving action tale with several fine performances. By 1975 Europe was overrun by cheap crime pix, many of them from Italy and pitched barely higher than TV-movie level. Writer-director José Giovanni's thriller possesses some of the qualities associated with Jean-Pierre Melville -- crooks and cops operating under a code of honor -- but skips philosophical inquiries to sympathize with France's gypsy community.
Hugo Sennart (Delon) and his gang pull off daring daytime armored car robberies, which motivate a crackdown on the caravan encampments of the Sennart gypsy clan. Several odd coincidences lead Inspector Blot (Marcel Bozzuffi) to theorize that Sennart is connected with Yann Cuq (Paul Meurisse of Clouzot's Les diaboliques), a safecracker whose girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances. The investigation becomes clouded when one of Blot's detectives (Bernard Giraudeau) admits to having an affair with the woman. Yann Cuq retreats to the same port city where Sennart and his bandits are hiding out. When the cops put pressure on the local underworld, Yann Cuq and Sennart inadvertently make contact with one another. Now the cops are certain that these two strangers, with completely different personal styles, are close confederates in crime.
The robberies are exciting and the plot machinations hold interest, thanks to The Gypsy's well chosen cast. Delon looks good in a gypsy hat and interacts well with his relatives, vagabonds forced to raise children in vacant lots and junk piles. "Old school" personality Paul Meurisse muddles through in a proper attitude of weary fatalism. He's helped along the way by a spirited old flame, played by Annie Girardot. Renato Salvatori is Jo Boxer, Sennart's most dependable gang member.
The Gypsy doesn't opt for simple tragedy. When wounded, Sennart receives unexpected help from a sympathetic veterinarian. His remain loyal even when captured or wounded. And when Inspector Blot corners Sennart and Yann Cuq, pass the nobility test, crooks and cop alike. The Gypsy connects well with the older French crime tradition.
The challenging and offbeat Our Story (Notre Histoire) (1984) is a seriocomic experiment unlike any other Delon film. It's the work of the always-diverting Bertrand Blier (Les valseuses, Un, deux, trois, soleil) and its style has been likened to Blier's 1979 movie Cold Cuts (Buffet froid). The unpromising beginning gives us a much older Delon as Robert Avranche, a morose alcoholic riding on a train. We know things are going to become 'conceptually complicated' when Robert starts talking about himself in the third person, as if reciting his own character's stage directions. Beautiful Donatienne Pouget (Nathalie Baye) confirms the Pirandellan trickery by narrating her own entrance in the third person, suggesting that they have sex together, immediately, right in Robert's train compartment. When Donatienne exits the train at the next stop, Robert is compelled to follow her.
That's just the beginning of what an elaborate and openly surreal farce. Robert settles into Donatienne's attractive house, gravitating toward its refrigerator stocked with beer. As far as he's concerned, he's in heaven: he has an easy chair with a window to stare out of while drinking himself into insensibility. But he can't get Donatienne to smile. She tells him to leave but doesn't insist on forcing him out, and instead brings back another train passenger she's seduced (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). The supporting cast rapidly snowballs, as Robert's brother and three friends arrive to take him home -- he has a wife and two girls in Paris. Some of Donatienne's friends show up, including Duval (Gérard Darmon), a lout who cruelly rebuffs Donatienne's declarations of love. A neighbor arrives to complain about the noise, and the collected crowd moves the party to his house. By now nothing makes sense. The neighbor looks on happily as the group drinks his beer and escorts his wife, dressed in a sheer nightgown, downstairs to admire her figure. The neighbor is also unconcerned when Robert and Duval fight, smashing much of the designer déor. The furniture is his wife's, so who cares?
Joined by a large contingent of neighbors who mostly stare in through the windows, the group watches as Robert takes the man's wife to bed. The husband's only comment is to sadly observe that she seems to enjoy Robert more. The characters remain acutely aware that they're players in a play. When a jealous female tries to speak, she's told to go stand in the corner. She's only a minor cast member, and she's getting in the way!
Things become even more dreamlike. Robert returns to Donnatienne's house to find a different woman living there. She shows him an even more perfect set-up, with a comfy chair placed only an arm's reach from a fridge fully stocked with varieties of beer. Robert tries to locate Donatienne by tracking down her girlfriend. Although it's just the next day, years seem to have passed. When he finally comes face to face with the girlfriend, now a schoolteacher, she looks just like Donatienne.
Intellectual puzzle pictures have a bad habit of losing of their own concept, as sustaining this kind of abstract whimsy is no easy feat. Notre Histoire's resolution is partially predictable yet wholly satisfactory -- the absurdities do indeed follow the logic of our dreams. The beer-soaked Alain Delon looks so forlorn that we're relieved when he finds his way out of this nightmare, a psychic mess where time, personal identity and one's own emotions are under constant attack. Far removed from his usual acting styles, Delon laughs at the foolishness of his situation yet resigns himself to every insane, surreal twist. Nathalie Baye transforms into four or five different women, which are either facets of one personality or represent the different ways she's perceived by Robert. Notre Histoire is a daring and unusual experiment that works. Delon won a French Best Actor award, but the film was not a commercial success.
Lionsgate presents its Alain Delon - Five Film Collection on three discs. The color on the enhanced transfers is good for all the titles, with only a few scenes here and there that are slightly washed out or have more grain. The aspect ratios are all between 1:66 and 1:85. Audio is the original French, with removable Spanish subtitles on all titles and removable English subs on all but La Piscine, where they're burned-in. No extras are provided.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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