Summer flix fix: Plein soleil
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the picture stars Alain Delon in his prime, along with Marie Laforêt (a pop singer making her screen debut), and one of France’s finest character actors, Maurice Ronet. Clément co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Gégauff, Claude Chabrol’s main scriptwriter throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. (Chabrol reportedly had little use for Clément, an adherent to the classic forms that the nouvelle vague were then in the process of eradicating.)
It’s a curious tale of murder, a crime of passion committed by Delon’s disturbed Tom Ripley. Rather than take the convenient route of logic, Clément and Gégauff use Ripley’s madness as a point of reference and build from there. Shot outdoors in the blistering sun or in overlit, sweltering hotel rooms, the picture is tinged with a brusque lack of discipline, mirroring the instability of a man in search of character and acceptance. Delon’s systematic theft of Ronet’s identity enables the script to explore the humiliation and degradation that have dogged his rootless existence. One beautifully acted scene, in which Delon pretends to be Ronet in front of a mirror, was reworked by Gégauff eight years later in his screenplay for Chabrol’s Les Biches.
Clément spent most of his career riding on the reputation of his one acknowledged classic, Jeux interdits (Forbidden Games, 1952), and had something of a hit in 1966 with Paris brûle-t-il? (Is Paris Burning?). Plein soleil — titled Purple Noon in America, the color representing the hue of the Mediterranean where the action takes place — benefits from the invaluable contributions of cinematographer Henri Decaë (on the heels of his successful run of Bob le flambeur, Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Les Quatre cents coups and Les Cousins) and editor Françoise Javet. They lend Plein soleil a flavor never to be duplicated in any of the director’s subsequent pictures.