Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), Directed by René Clément

The 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, based on Patricia Highsmith’s great novel, is one of my favourite films. I didn’t realize until recently that an earlier film adaption had been made in 1960 by René Clément, starring French heartthrob Alain Dolen. I snapped up a chance to see it on the big screen this past weekend at TIFF’s retrospective on French crime classics. This film, along with so many other critically acclaimed French films, was never released in North America. A shame it didn’t get wider release, as it did really well in Europe. While not Alain Dolen’s first film, it is the film that launched his career. Martin Scorsese was the one to finally release Purple Noon in America, but it has taken some time to get to the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This version of Highsmith’s Tom Ripley is apparently not exactly like the book, and I am told that the author did not like the ending, but she did think it was a beautiful a film. It is a very beautiful film, but aren’t all films shot in southern Italy. Unfortunately she never saw Minghella’s 1999 version, which is apparently closer to her original story. I’ve seen Anthony Minghella’s film several times, and the two films are different in some ways and exactly the same in others.  Both equally intriguing in their portrayal of the characters and telling of the story, with the exception of the ending.  The one thing that seemed odd in the earlier version was that they were French actors playing Americans characters in Italy, speaking French, in French accents. Well all but one, Philippe (not Dickie) Greenleaf’s friend Freddy played by Bill Kearns, is an American actor speaking French with an American accent but it was the most unnatural accent of them all. Possibly because it seemed his audio had been dubbed over and perhaps because he was the only American accent in the film.

I really liked the casting of this film. Alain Delon’s Ripley and Maurice Ronet’s Greenleaf have the perfect awkward chemistry and Marie Laforêt’s doe-eyed Marge is a bit different than Paltrow’s more classic Marge, but I thought it worked well.  Delon and Ronet look much more alike than Damon and Law, easily mistaken for each other, but with vastly different personalities. It is also interesting that Maurice Ronet resembles Jude Law, and that Bill Kearns and Philip Seymour Hoffman could be relatives. But the casting of Delon, with his magnetic and beautiful face, is a bit of a different spin on that character as compared to Matt Damon. I’m not saying Matt is not an attractive man, but Alain Delon is an absolutely beautiful man.

Patricia Highsmith may not have liked the ending of Plein Soleil, but I didn’t mind it. I thought it worked for this version.

I encourage you to see Plein Soleil (Purple Noon it might be easier to find). As for me, I’ll finally be cracking open Highsmith’s book and catching up on some Alain Dolen and René Clément films.

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