Review: Purple Noon (1960)

Purple Noon (Plein Soleil, 1960)
Dir: René Clement
Starring: Alain Delon, Marie Lafornet, Maurice Ronet

'Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.'

(-'The Picture of Dorian Grey', Oscar Wilde.)


René Clement's beautifully lush adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley - the first of two (the second being Anthony Minghella's 1999 version) - is a lissome ode to the luxuriant power that wealth yields, weaving a story both repelled and seduced by uninhibited greed and its benefits. Revelling in the hypnotic beauty of 1960's Rome, it sets the same desirous gaze as Ripley at the playboy's life; the jewel-toned summers and sparkling seaside resorts, the drunken gamblers in their white linen suits, the preening women to be gained as objects of desire - in much the same manner as a car or a yacht. Delon as Ripley is truly an identity defined by consumption; he exists merely through the prism of Greenleaf, coldly calculating until he can inhabit his friend's persona. His motivations seem less guided by traditional obsession or jealousy (as Matt Damon's version of Ripley suggests) than by blind, chameleonic ambition. Delon's almost blinding good looks function as both charming aid to his crimes and suggest his frighteningly empty malevolence. His Ripley is less precise and more carefree than his 1999 portrayal; his own star persona and appearance so closely matches that of the tanned, languishing playboy that he appears entirely at ease as an interloper - and perhaps this makes Mr. Ripley even the more talented.

A particularly telling scene is one in which, casually strolling through a seaside market, Ripley inspects some of the more grotesque fish for sale. With a smirking nonchalance - having just committed a murder at sea - he laughs at Greenleaf's watery fate, and relishes in the strange, morbid wonder of inspecting the creatures who will soon be feasting on his old friend. He remains unaware that there is nothing Neptune hates more than the hubris of a handsome man - and the film's conclusion attests to this with an awful irony.


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