Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 03, 2021 7:14 am 
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JACQUES DERAY: LA PISCINE (1969) - 4K restoration in select cities; on Blu-ray July 20, 2021


Dangerous indulgences

Alain Delon killed Maurice Ronet in René Clément's dazzlingly sensual crime movie Purple Noon/Plein soleil in 1960. Nine years later Ronet was alive again, coming to spoil Delon's summer poolside Riviera idyll with (real life former gf) Romy Schneider in La Piscine, which is also deeply sensual, but, by a lesser director, Jacques Deray, and lacks the cunning penetration into a criminal mind Purple Noon derived from its source, Patricia Highsmith's classic debut Tom Ripley novel.

What it has is a sumptuous hilltop villa with the titular body of deep blue water and, gathered around it, a steamy foursome setup that goes from summertime celebration and sex to tension to violence and drawn-out suspense. In a way the story fizzles out, but with this set and these actors and with the late Jean-Claude Carrière (working from an Alain Page story) doing the writing, it never loses control of its posh, sultry European movie world. Cinephiles who love French film (and isn't that a tautology?) must see this, or if they once did, must see it again in this beautiful new restoration.

The car driven by Harry (Ronet) - everybody who sees this movie talks about it - is a Maserati Ghibli; a lavishly restored edition of this "monster," as Marianne (Schneider's character) calls it, was recently expected to fetch a price of between 320,000 and 440,000 euros. At Ghia in Torino the master designers called the color "rosso rubino," ruby red.

The recent review says Harry's (Ronet's character's) "flashy lifestyle, see-through shirts and Italian car all scream mid-life crisis." I'd say they scream a tacky sensuality trumped by Delon's and Schneider's more subtle kind, though Delon does tell Ronet the presence of his grownup daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin) makes him look older to him now.

Delon, who plays Jean-Paul, a failed writer and bored ad executive here, was 34, and still European cinema's most fabulously handsome man. Not quite the fresh beauty everyone admires in Plein Soleil , when he was 25 - but aging a bit wasn't going to stop him from making great movies, particularly with Jean-Pierre Melville and Joseph Losey. Schneider was 30. Jane Birkin (in life Serge Gainsbourg's famous young love) was 23, not the 18 of her character (Ronet's given the line, "she looks older than she is.") Ronet, for the record, is an ancient 42. Neither of the men looks all that healthy, under their tans. Scneider and Birkin look great. When Harry arrives with Penelope, whom Jean-Paul has never seen, the latter checks her age, perhaps to know she's legal, and eyes her with interest. He had not wanted the old "friend" around or for Marianne to invite him to stay. Trouble is afoot.

This is the kind of film that needs to look immaculate and gleaming and in this beautiful restoration, it does. A black and white "polar noir" doesn't need to.

The "party" of all Harry's (Ronet's) "friends" who invade from "below" one night is a tacky interlude out of a B movie; but it's always fun to see French people pretending they know how to dance. The "party" of these people is the event that compounds Harry's disruption of Jean-Paul (Delon) and Marianne (Schneider)'s idyll. Gradually we learn they've been together two years, and were probably more bored than they were letting on. It simply makes clear how transitory this idyll was anyway.

The climax, fueled by drink - both Jean-Paul and Harry turn out to be alcoholics - is realistically, slowly, gruesome. One may wonder how Patricia Highsmith would have handled it. After that, though a persistent detective creates tension in the rather long denouement, it yet comes to seem as if the movie doesn't quite know how to end. Nonetheless the whole initial setup, this glamorous, fabulously sensuous, spoiled and dangerous world is what we remember and is well worth the price of admission.

La Piscine ("The Swimming Pool"), 122 mins., originally debuted in France Jan. 1969. It has had renewed life with various rereleases in the 2000's. The 4K restoration debuted at Film Forum, NYC May 17-24, 2021, and, distributed by Rialto Pictures, it is currently rolling out to multiple US cities through July. The Criterion Collection will release the restoration on Blu-ray July 20.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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