Judge Daryl Loomis never wanted to be a French heartthrob, but the role has always been thrust upon him. Begrudgingly, he has come to accept his fate.
You can sleep with my wife, but stay out of my chair!
From hardscrabble beginnings to one of the biggest names in post-war French cinema, Alain Delon has had a career that has spanned more than 50 years and a staggering number of starring roles. Yet, aside from a few choice features like Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai and Luchino Visconti's The Leopard, his name is relatively unknown on this side of the Atlantic. In spite of this, his ability to play in all kinds of films has built him a legion of fans over the years. This set from Lionsgate, aptly but uncreatively called Alain Delon: 5-Films Collection, presents five films over a two decade span of Delon's career, showing his ability to play diverse characters in all types of situations.
Facts of the Case
The Swimming Pool (1969): A young couple (Delon and Romy Schneider, Boccaccio '70) on vacation in St. Tropez receives a sudden call from her old lover, who is in town with his beautiful young daughter (Jane Birkin, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye). When they come by, old flames are rekindled, new ones are struck, and a crime of jealous passion threatens to tear the couple apart.
Diabolically Yours (1967): Delon plays a man who awakens from a coma to find that he's been in a terrible car accident and suffers from complete amnesia. His wife (Senta Berger, Our Man in Marrakesh) thinks he's faking it, but he thinks she's not actually his wife. His investigations overturn a plot more insidious than he could imagine.
The Widow Couderc (1971): A middle-aged widow (Simone Signoret, Diabolique) takes a drifter (Delon) onto her farm, where he does odd jobs for her. Over time, they grow to love one another and make modest plans to build a life together. The drifter has a secret however, and the people next door seem to have their knowing eyes on him.
The Gypsy (1975): This modern day Robin Hood tale features Delon as a notorious robber known only as "Le Gitan," who robs the rich to give to his Gypsy brethren. Enlisting the help of whatever seedy criminal is willing, Le Gitan hops around Europe eluding his captors and collecting treasure in the name of justice for his people.
Our Story (1984): An aging loser (Delon) sits on the train, drinking and contemplating his worthless life. Suddenly, a woman named Donatienne (Nathalie Baye, Catch Me if You Can) appears in his room offering anonymous sex. After the deed, he follows her, much to her chagrin, and she leads down a surreal path of bourgeois transgression, altering identities, and sexual musical chairs.
Delon's performances are good throughout the collection, alternately playing heartthrobs, loners, and criminals with equal skill. His looks make it believable that he could bed sex symbols Jane Birkin and Romy Schneider in the same film and the depth of emotion he's able to produce evokes great sympathy in his more marginal characters. Especially in the films here from the '60s, his style, charisma, and wit make it easy to see how his star rose fast. That does not mean, however, that he saves the worst of these films, but he is always a watchable hero.
The most enjoyable in this collection is Diabolically Yours. Its narrow plot about an amnesiac that believes his "wife" is scamming him serves as the best canvas for Delon's skill. On the surface, the character knows none of this is real. There are things he knows deep down that he loves, such as television and mint tea, but these opinions are contradicted by what his wife and doctor know "he really loves." His insistence about loving things that he never did before, they say, is evidence that he's the one scamming them. It sets into motion a very effective mystery. It may not end with an entirely surprising twist, but it is tautly directed by Julien Duvivier and convincingly acted from all the actors.
On the other end is The Gypsy, which casts Delon as a Robin Hood-style Gypsy. Delon is good in the role, but the film is a dull police procedural that forgoes any depth for a multitude of heist scenes. Ostensibly, there is some commentary in The Gypsy about how the French treat the transient Gypsy population, but the treatment of this culture over the years is no secret in the first place, and I don't see the purpose of the message. "Le Gitan" enlists the help seediest people in Europe to aid him in committing the robberies. There is no Friar Tuck in his group of merry men, these are just jerks with guns robbing and killing for the thrill of it. Very little is even said of the Gypsy plight until the very end and, by then, it rings like hollow attempt at redemption for a violent character without conscience.
Our Story, or "Notre histoire," is translated as "Separate Rooms" on the print, though the packaging translates the title literally, and more appropriately. This might be, on a technical level, the most accomplished film of the lot. It's hard to say, since the story is so unbelievably confusing, but the colorful, dynamic photography and flailing, absurd performances lend the film an artistry that the others can't match. A surreal farce, it is the only comedy of the lot, and again shows Delon's ability to work against type. Almost a parody of his earlier work, he is a loner who becomes obsessed with a mysterious nymphomaniac whose identity constantly changes. He does an excellent job of playing it straight while everyone around him acts like a maniac. It's very possible that I just don't get the joke, but it meanders until it concludes in the most obvious way possible.
There is a lot to like about The Swimming Pool, not the least of which is the presence of Birkin and Schnieder, who are stunningly beautiful, though in different ways. This is Delon's chance to be the Casanova, his hallmark, and he is entirely believable both as the lover of these women and as the jealous, jilted lover, but the film never really comes together. It is too long at over two hours, especially since there are lengthy scenes of swingin' '60s lifestyle; drinking and dancing are both fun, but watching half an hour of it becomes tedious. These scenes have nothing to do with the story and could simply be chopped, which would have made a far tighter film. It clearly wants to have an impact like Diabolically Yours, but too many characters and an unsatisfying conclusion sabotage the story.
Finally, The Widow Couderc is the film I'm most torn over. The basic premise is much like Harold and Maude, and it works very well on this level. Delon and Signoret have great chemistry, despite their marked age difference, and it is easy to root for their happiness and the little egg farm they plan to make. The subplot of the family next door, however, confuses and finally ruins the film. Maybe it's a lazy translation in the subtitles but, at times, the neighbors appear to be the widow's jealous family and, at other times, they are presented as spies ready to capture Delon. This makes the tone inconsistent and undermines the more important issue of breaking the age taboo.
It would have been nice if Lionsgate had provided some background on the actor or, since he's still alive, an interview or two to give some context to these films. There are no features at all on these three discs. There is some grain on the prints, but they're cleaned up surprisingly well. The anamorphic transfers are all free from defects and the sound, mono on each, is crisp and clear.
To say the five films in this collection are a mixed bag is a huge understatement. The films are not all bad, but the lack of a connecting theme or genre makes the changes somewhat jarring. Good or bad, these films are a great introduction to a fine actor who has worked for more than a half century in a film industry that we see very little of. In order to notice this collection, one would need experience with Delon's work and this, along with the complete lack of information about the actor, makes the set disappointing.
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