Alain Delon Film Film Collection DVD Review
Posted by ColliderStaff
Reviewed by Cal Kemp
In 1967 Alain Delon hit the quintessence of neo-noir cool when he teamed with Jean-Pierre Melville for Le Samourai. While it was with that film that Delon arguably left his biggest impact, he had already worked alongside Rene Clement, Luchino Visconti and Michelangelo Antonioni. His filmography reads like a who's who of 60's European auteurs.
Lionsgate has been doing an amazing job lately with their European catalogue titles. In the last year or so we've had sets focusing on Luis Bunuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Renoir and Alfred Hitchock. A lot like Criterion's Eclipse series, these sets are economically priced and don't feature extras of any kind, packing several titles together on a couple discs.
While these aren't Delon's classics, it's far from just filmic also-rans. The set includes five movies spread across three discs and is the first time all of them are hitting DVD. We get: The Swimming Pool, Diabolically Yours, The Widow Couderc, The Gypsy and Our Story. All of them boast surprisingly crisp transfers and, as fascinating as they are individually, give off a combined experience that really shows Delon change as an actor.
The Swimming Pool (La Piscine) hit originally in 1969 and oozes with 60's style. Delon plays Jean-Paul against actress Romy Schneider's Marianne. The pair are lovers vacationing at a luxurious house on the French Riveria who aren't quite prepared for a visit from mutual friend (and Marianne's former lover) Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his beautiful 18 year-old daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin).
Relationships grow taught as love and lust pull through the characters. Delon and Schneider have going for them the fact that they're pure sex on-screen. That said, looking at beautiful people hanging out by their pool still gets old pretty fast. The film's real fault is it's running time. At two hours, the pace is just way too slow to keep up interest and the big turning point of the film -- a murder which, despite it feeling like a spoiler, was actually featured on the film's original poster -- doesn't occur till three quarters of the way through.
The Swimming Pool probably holds a lot more interest in its meta-narrative than what we get on the surface. Schneider and Delon were a couple in real-life, having ended their relationship years before. Delon starred with Ronet in Purple Noon (the original Talented Mr. Ripley). These are delights to appreciate from an outside perspective but it's very hard to get any real appreciation for the rather plodding story itself.
That's far from the case, though, with Diabolically Yours (Diaboliquement votre) which, chronologically, is the earliest film in the set having been released in 1967. Diabolically Yours is a pretty exciting -- if pretty unbelievable -- thriller wherein Delon plays George Campo, a man who has awakened from a coma to find his memory gone. He's told that he was in a car accident and is reintroduced to his wife, only to learn that not everyone is being entirely honest with him.
I won't say any more for fear ruining it but the film runs a pretty fine line between clever and just plain silly. It's a fun time but I doubt it holds up to multiple viewings.
Next up is 1971's The Widow Couderc (La Veuve Couderc), set in a small French town in the 1930's. Delon gives a truly solid performance as Jean, a mysterious stranger who comes into town and works odd jobs for Simon Signoret's Couderc Tati -- a decidedly older woman who has inherited a house and struggles to make ends meet.
The two become unlikely lovers and unlike The Swimming Pool's flat-out physical beauty, the actors have to rely on a relationship made believable entirely by their performances -- something they put across with subtlety and real emotion.
The Widow Couderc may be the strongest film in the collection and has the plotting of a western but is placed in a pastoral setting that really drives home the timelessness of the story.
The Gypsy (Le Gitan) was released in 1975 and has Delon as a criminal known as "The Gypsy" -- a Romani gypsy who'll do anything to help his people. Like Diabolically Yours, The Gypsy is kind of silly but a lot of fun.
While the one story unfolds with Delon, there's another case going on regarding the completely-unrelated accidental death of another's criminal's wife. The police assume an imaginary connection and their investigation ties the two stories together. It's a strange way to go about it, but it actually works pretty well. Imagine a cross between Snatch and The Asphalt Jungle.
While I'll stand behind Courderc as the most solid work in this set, I think my favorite is 1984's Our History (Notre Histoire). It's a fantastically strange bit of rather surreal filmmaking in which Delon plays Robert Avranche, an alcoholic who meets a Nathalie Baye's Donatienne on a train. Each tells the other their version a story about themselves and what's about to happen next between them. It progress to the point that -- for the entire film -- each is continuously casting and recasting themselves and the other in new stories; Ones that unfold onscreen as they're being told.
Truthfully, it never quite works as you get the sense that they're aiming for an 8 1/2 sort of magical realism that never happens. Still, I found the attempt grand and fascinating and shows off Delon's talent as an aging actor rather than the handsome young appearance he's known for.
Sadly, there are no extras whatsoever. A few trailers would have been nice, especially for placing the films in their historical context, but we're still pretty lucky to be getting these films at all.
My one big complaint, though, would be the packaging. Three discs are placed in an oversized keepcase with a cardboard slipcover featuring an image of Delon that is pixelated to the point that it almost looks like a bootleg. Being someone who likes to constantly rearrange his collection, I'd much prefer something more along the lines of Eclipse's single thin-cases for each film, preferably with a little bit of original poster art.
But that's a minor complaint compared to how much I enjoyed this set. As I said, this isn't Delon's classics and, frankly, bless it for that; The fact that we're getting decent transfers of films that otherwise could easily become lost to time is one of the greatest achievements of the DVD format in general. I can't wait to see what Lionsgate has planned next for this line.