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06.04.08

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Phaedra

Alain Delon: 5-Film Collection

Three discs; Lionsgate Home Entertainment; $39.98

By Michael S. Gant


French star Alain Delon never enjoyed the art-house cred of New Wave icon Jean-Paul Belmondo, even though his smoothly amoral Tom Ripley in Purple Noon (1959) exposes the flaws in Matt Damon's turn at the yacht wheel in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Delon, born in 1935 and blessed with almost Dorian Gray good looks, remained a sturdy star of French policiers, thrillers and romances for decades. This extras-free box set, while not an ideal introduction to Delon's oeuvre (which would include Purple Noon, Rocco and His Brothers, Un Flic and Le Samourai), does provide a varied look at the leading man. In Diabolically Yours (1967), the last film by veteran director Julien Duvivier (Pépé le Moko), Delon awakes from a bad accident to find himself suddenly wealthy and married to a glamorous wife (Euro sex symbol Senta Berger). But when she insists that she can't sleep with him until he recovers from his amnesia and the sinister butler named Kim starts prowling around the mansion, Delon suspects that he's been set up as a patsy. The plot involves a fantastical amount of coincidences to work, but Delon, who moves through film with a dancer's grace, and Berger make a stunning pair. The Swimming Pool (1969), directed by Jacques Deray, bakes under a Riviera sun that ignites buried jealousies between a man (Delon) and a woman (Romy Schneider) when her leering ex-squeeze (Maurice Ronet) drops by with his sexy teenage daughter (British fab-'60s model Jane Birkin) for a swim. Eventually, after much well-oiled lounging about (Schneider is as supple and comfortable in her skin as a seal), the pool has a body floating in it. The best film in the collection is 1971's The Widow Couderc, directed by Pierre Granier-Deferre from a Georges Simenon novel. In 1930s rural France, an escaped convict (Delon) finds work on the farm of an aging widow (Simone Signoret). Soon, Delon is sleeping with both her and the careless young girl across the canal, where the widow's resentful in-laws live. Granier-Deferre never romanticizes the ancient rhythms of country life (incubating eggs, scything grass by hand, drying apples in the barn); when everything stays the same, it can all change in a moment. The turmoil that finally explodes into violence is subtly linked to the tensions and fears of fascism that infected France at the time of the Stavisky affair. In his droopy mustache, leather coat and mirrored sunglasses, Delon looks faintly ridiculous, like an underworld Robert Goulet, as the outlaw hero of The Gypsy (1975), directed by José Giovanni. In a two-pronged plot, the Gypsy Hugo runs from the law at the same time and in the same places as an aging safecracker (Paul Meurisse) . Their paths keep crossing to no particular end, and the film consists mostly of stake-outs and hide-outs. Some high-minded rhetoric about the plight of the Gypsies doesn't elevate this from the mundane, and the few scenes of real Gypsy life just reveal how ludicrous Delon's impersonation is. Bertrand Blier's weird comedy Our Story (1984) starts with an improbable encounter on a train between an older drunk man (Delon) and a young, sexually frank woman (Nathalie Baye) that turns into an escalating sex farce when Delon insists on hanging around long after their one-night stand should be over. The characters keep describing their own narratives as they unfold, as if they were pitching the idea for the movie while it's in progress. Some critics praise Blier (who made Gerard Depardieu a star with Going Places) as the second coming of later Buñel, but Our Story is a brittle bit of bourgoisie-baiting that turns strangely sentimental at the end.


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