Plein Soleil

Alain Delon is breathtakingly gorgeous. I probably could have watched him, photographed and frequently shirtless like he is here, reading the proverbial phonebook, and I still would have been captivated.

It seems shallow to point it out. But in fact, in Plein Soleil, the first film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, Delon's beauty is essential. He has not just an amazing physique, but also an angelic face, a face that seems incompatible with his fundamentally evil nature. If we look just at his actions, then Ripley is a monster, a callous and cold-blooded killer with purely selfish motives, who doesn't even seem to understand love, just desire. But because we're so used to associate evil with ugliness, and beauty with truth and goodness, we go along with his story, try to understand him, try to justify his actions to ourselves, to be able to look at him and admire him without guilt.

This is a very different Ripley than Matt Damon's in Mingella's 1999 film. His Ripley was mostly a cypher, someone so empty that he needs to adapt someone else's personality and life to know who to be. He was a chameleon first and foremost, though admittedly the homoerotic subtext was also a big part of that film, a bigger one than it is in Plein Soleil. Delon's Ripley is more nefarious, also a little pathetic especially in the beginning, ultimately more evil in nature but because of his beauty also more alluring.

I liked The Talented Mr. Ripley, especially for Jude Law's amazing performance. It's the more suspenseful movie of the two. But this one digs deeper somehow. Highsmith created a fascinating character in Ripley, one whose motivation is so obscure many different interpretations are possible, a character also who makes for intriguing films. Ripley's Game, with John Malkovich in the titular role, is an underseen little gem, and I still very much want to see Hopper's take on the character in The American Friend. So far though, Plein Soleil is the Ripley film I like best.

1 comment:

Lanchka said...

You know, I read your posts and I almost convince myself that I would enjoy these serious movies. That might not sound like a compliment, but I mean it as one, since there isn't much on the silver screen that can tear me away from Zhang Yimou, X-men, or Adam Sandler. (And I'm not afraid to say that Happy Gilmore is one of my favourites. I think I've seen it about 10 times and it still makes me laugh.)

Anyway, I didn't know that Ripley had been movie-fied more than once, so I'm actually interested in checking this one out. In French no less! Will you do reviews of the other Ripley adaptations?