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Purple Gaze

Alain Delon in René Clément’s Purple Noon (1960)

Starting this afternoon, New York’s Film Forum will present a weeklong series of eleven films starring Alain Delon. He’s appeared in about nine times as many movies, so this will be just a sampler, but few would quibble with the selections. As Anthony Lane points out in the New Yorker, the series “moves from the late springtime of Delon’s career to its high summer.”

With Ripley fever in the air, beginning with Purple Noon (1960), René Clément’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, is a nice touch. “Delon is flat-out terrific in Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein, a 1976 World War II mystery in which he’s a wealthy art dealer whose life slowly comes undone when he’s mistaken for a Jewish man with the same name,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “He’s also very good in Jacques Deray’s La piscine (1969), a tight, nasty piece of work about bored bourgeois types whose torpor is broken by murder.” Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s repertory artistic director, will introduce Sunday’s screening of La piscine.

As a new restoration of Le samouraï (1967) tours North America, the series includes two more films directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, Le cercle rouge (1970) and Un flic (1972). Luchino Visconti is here twice as well, with Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and the one David Weir has written a book about and will introduce on Monday, The Leopard (1963). Reviewing Jack Cardiff’s The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) in this week’s 4Columns—it screens on Tuesday—Melissa Anderson notes that “even bad movies are not without their fascinations and oddities.”

“What is it about this particular actor,” asks Lane, “that marks him out and favors him with that uncanny, self-enclosing remoteness that we associate with stardom, even at its most gregarious? It was not his voice, for sure; when he is dubbed into Italian for Visconti and Antonioni, there isn’t much of a letdown. If we watch him greedily, asking for more, it is for a reason so obvious, and so elemental, that stating it plainly seems almost indecent, but here goes. Alain Delon, in his prime, was the most beautiful man in the history of the movies.”

This week’s highlights:

  • Jessica Kiang has launched a new monthly column for Sight and Sound on the films of 1974, “the high watermark of a long-vanished period, when general movie audiences were imagined to be adults.” Kiang anchors her opener to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, which turned fifty last Sunday, prompting Adam Nayman to write about this “supremely and persuasively paranoid thriller” for the Ringer. In the Guardian, Scott Tobias writes that “Coppola’s brilliant film predicted a future in which the more we think we know about human beings, the less we likely do.”

  • John Akomfrah will represent Britain at this year’s Venice Biennale (April 20 through November 24). Profiling Akomfrah for frieze, Vanessa Peterson revisits such recent work as Vertigo Sea (2015), Purple (2017), and Four Nocturnes (2019) as well as his directorial debut: “To rewatch Handsworth Songs (1986) now—Akomfrah’s highly acclaimed documentary chronicling the uprisings sparked by racist policing in Birmingham and London during the 1980s—at a time when those on the right of Britain’s political spectrum are demonizing migrants amidst rolling labor strikes, is to see our current moment reflected at us through the 1980s.” Handsworth Songs screens next month as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music series Uncharted Territories: Black Britain on Film, 1963–1986, programmed by Criterion’s own Ashley Clark.

  • Vera Drew’s The People’s Joker, currently positioned as an “unauthorized parody,” is “an anarchic, punk, profane work that invigorates the trans memoir/essayistic mode,” writes Caden Mark Gardner in an exchange with Willow Catelyn Maclay at Reverse Shot. The film “feels not like a work strictly for trans people to feel ‘seen,’ but instead articulates its themes to a potentially broad audience who often see trans people as ciphers for a brand of respectability politics—which most of us neither signed up for nor want. For that alone it feels like a major work, and a film that I both related to and felt called out by as a trans person.” Gardner and Maclay’s book Corpses, Fools and Monsters: The History and Future of Transness in Cinema will be out in July.

  • Charles Burnett’s The Annihilation of Fish (1999) has been newly restored and revived. For Film Comment, Racquel Gates writes that when this “meditation on love, companionship, and community . . . is placed within the context of Burnett’s larger oeuvre, clear thematic and stylistic through lines emerge. Like in his other work, Burnett stages the home as the site where social and cultural issues converge with the interpersonal. In Fish, the boardinghouse serves as the space where individuals negotiate aging and its effects on their senses of self and community, just as the family home stood as a battleground for generational and geographic conflicts in To Sleep With Anger (1990).”

  • The soundtrack for Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958) by Miles Davis and four French jazz musicians is “famous in part because it was improvised quickly while watching rushes from the film, but it’s also a point of negotiation between Europe and America, recorded music and cinema, composition and time,” writes Sasha Frere-Jones for Metrograph Journal. Jeanne Moreau is “at the center of what makes Elevator still valuable as both film and music. Scenes of her walking around Paris, almost getting hit by cars, and staring dolefully at boys playing pinball is where the second half of the twentieth century begins.”

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