It’s always a bit strange watching “the original” of a film you know well. I vaguely remember watching the 1999 version of this film (otherwise known as The Talented Mr Ripley) and equally vaguely recall mutters of “aaah, but the original…” being present in spirit – and quite concretely – of most of the commentary I came across. As part of My French Film Festival, if you are done with weighing up the candidates for the competition, you can peruse the out of competition films, one of which is the remastered version of the ‘60s classic Plein Soleil.
Alain Delon plays the legendary and enigmatic Mr. Ripley, who is sent to the Italian Riviera to bring playboy Philippe Greenleaf home by his father. However, Greenleaf Jr has found the woman of his dreams, Marge, and has no intention of leaving the Dolce Vita just yet. Mr. Ripley being a young man who knows an opportunity when he sees it, starts a rather uneasy relationship with Philippe, where Tom is part staff, part friend, part hanger on. The relationship starts off working – well sort of. But as time goes on, little does anyone know that Tom has his own plans as to how this Italian trip will end – and it has very little to do with taking Philippe back home.
I can pretend to hint and create suspense but actually, be it through the original Patricia Highsmith novel or the more talked about 1999 remake, we know full well what happens next. Tom kills Philippe, assumes his identity and takes over his life. The big question is, of course, how the two compare.
This film is actually Alain Delon’s big break. It is the film that launched his acting career – and it is very easy to see why. Delon plays a completely terrifying psychopath. And it is not until nigh on the middle of the film that we realise how truly terrifying Tom Ripley is. As we have no Hollywood-style music or camerawork hinting at what we should feel next, we are left to our own devices and the more subtle clues the film gives us as it slowly reveals that Ripley can pretty much improvise his way out of most of the sticky situations impersonating a relatively well-known playboy could throw up.
Of course the one main difference between the two films – much to the horror of some reviewers – is that (**SPOILER ALERT**) at the end of this film it is broadly hinted that Tom Ripley will get caught. Highsmith herself openly said that “It was a terrible concession to so-called public morality that the criminal had to be caught.” And as the creator of Tom Ripley and his universe, she no doubt knows a thing or two about the matter. But as far as filmmaking went, back in the 60’s, it was still very much an era where you had to make sure that the “goodies” won in the end.
Even with this concession though, I think the story works so much better as an art-house film as opposed to it’s big-budget offshoot four decades later. It takes the quiet determination and the focus on the subtle little clues that makes the film, in my opinion, truly hair-raising. And it is a credit to the ability of the film to play on the viewer’s emotions that, despite knowing the major plot-twists in the story, the more minor points were so gripping that I watched the film with baited breath, wondering if (and this quite illogically, despite having read the Highsmith quote above BEFORE having seen the film) somehow Ripley may yet escape… This film is definitely worth a gander – it does not have an almost cult following with the likes of Martin Scorsese for nothing… And it’s a worthy homage to the past of French filmmaking at a festival that explores its present and future.
Plein Soleil is showing as part of My French Film Festival, an online film festival being held here. The film is available to watch on demand for £1.50.