Friday, December 18, 2009

DIABOLICALLY YOURS (Diaboliquement Votre, 1967)

You wake up in a hospital one morning and learn that you've been in a coma following a car accident. You discover that you are Alain Delon, at least in physical terms. Your name, the doctors tell you, is Georges Campos, and your lovely wife, who in physical terms is Senta Berger, is waiting to bring you home. And what a home! Apparently you are a millionaire, at least in francs. You own a mansion and a Buick. You have a vaguely Asiatic looking servant, and it looks like you made your fortune in Hong Kong. You don't remember? That's too be expected; you had a very bad accident. But it's not like that. True, you don't remember your name or if you're married or not, but you do remember some people like your pal Freddie, the doctor who's prescribed a strict regiment of plenty of sleep, plenty of pills, and no sex with the wife until your memory's back. And the more you remember, the more you still don't remember being Georges Campos or being married to the beautiful Christiane. That is, you wouldn't if not for the voices you hear in the night that sound pretty certain that you are, indeed, Georges Campos the corrupt businessman and all-around meanie. After a while, they also seem pretty certain that you ought to kill yourself. Maybe that would be the right thing to do, given what you've learned about yourself, and the fact that your dog hates you, except for those other flashbacks to another life altogether and the echo of another name: Pierre Lagrange....

That's the predicament Delon finds himself facing in the final film directed by Julien Duvivier. He's probably best known for Pepe le Moko, a big early hit for Jean Gabin that was remade in the U.S. as Algiers, a big early hit for Charles Boyer. Duvivier fled to the U.S. during WW2 and most prominently made the portmanteau films Tales of Manhattan and Flesh and Fantasy. In the last year of his life the 70 year old director made a vivid and sometimes campy psychological thriller that has strong film noir elements and touches of expressionism. It gets a bit clunky toward the end when we finally have to have the plot explained, but what carries us through is Alain Delon's performance and the sexual tension between him and Berger, who together may form part of a triangle or quadrilateral.

Duh, how do you say femme fatale in French? Senta Berger enjoys the attentions of the actually-German Peter Mosbacher as Kim.

Delon is likably irreverent here. You can tell very early that despite whatever real amnesia the character suffers, he isn't buying the scenario for a second. The character comes off rather like a wisecracking American noir hero, repeatedly calling Kim the vaguely Asian servant "Chairman Mao." The situation may just be too good for him to believe, but "Georges" isn't quite a tabula rasa, and some subconscious cynicism or survival instinct may be warning him about the truth. Delon's irreverence or insolence sets up a contrast for his later uncertainty about his sanity as the mansion starts seeming more like a haunted house and his flashbacks become more stylistically jarring.

Expressionist and other touches from director Duvivier and cinematographer Henri Decae

The plot, once revealed, seems a little over-elaborate, and some details probably would have been better off left mysterious. It can't help but be a clunker of a moment when Delon discovers that the voices in the night are coming from a good-sized tape recorder stuck between his mattresses. But the sexual tension among the four main characters transcends the sometimes creaky plot mechanics, and the payoff when Delon defies doctor's orders and does it with Berger is undiluted by the implausibility of the core conspiracy. Duvivier exits on a minor but graceful note, ably assisted by Delon and Berger. It's no great ultimate statement, and I doubt that Duvivier had anything like that in him. It's just a last modest confirmation (on top of the few other films I've seen from him) of his skill at making entertaining films.

A cinematic pun? Diaboliquement Votre was Delon's first film after Le Samourai, but unlike in Jean-Pierre Melville's crime masterpiece the actor sort of dresses like a samurai here.

Here's a jazzy French trailer with plenty of male chauvanist mayhem, uploaded to YouTube by Annie7676:

1 comment:

Vera said...

Agreed. Thanks for posting this. It's a film that doesn't get much attention these days so glad to see somebody besides myself has watched it.