REVIEW – Plein Soleil (1960)

pleinsoleil10A little while ago, I was planning on writing a book about psychological thrillers. I thought it might have been a good idea because I wanted to read a book about psychological thrillers but nobody appeared to have written one. While the project was eventually dissolved by the dawning realisation that nobody would publish a book about psychological thrillers written by me, my attempt to pull together a list of great psychological thrillers brought me into contact with Rene Clement’s Plein Soleil. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s classic existential novel The Talented Mr Ripley, Plein Soleil struck me as a fascinating misprision… a failure to comprehend the original intent of a work that nonetheless produced something of considerable beauty. FilmJuice have my review of Plein Soleil, which is now available in the UK for the first time in altogether too long.

Set in the strange demimonde created by wealthy American socialites slumming it in Italian hotels, Plein Soleil tells of a penniless young man who attaches himself to a much wealthier man with a far more forceful personality. In Highsmith’s original text, the relationship between Ripley and his prey is a sort of existential magnetism, a void that attempts to fill itself by consuming a much more substantial person. Intriguingly, Clement and Delon present Ripley not as an existential void but as a sort of unquenchable hunger… a man with nothing who wants everything and who will stop at nothing in order to get it. Indeed, even Anthony Minghella’s stylistically dull adaptation of the book presented Ripley as a sexless figure whereas Delon’s Ripley is all about Marie Laforet’s fragrant Marge:

Delon’s Ripley is an absolute masterpiece, a creature of malign and yet unfettered grace, the male libido chiselled into marble and made socially acceptable by the strategic use of smart haircuts and tailor-made suits. Think Bond unhitched from Queen and Country.

Another thing that struck me since filing the review is that Plein Soleil has a very similar setting and cast of characters to Antonioni’s now burdensomely-canonical L’Avventura; both are about beautiful people in a beautiful place and both films use that beauty to highlight the beautiful people’s complete lack of interiority. In L’Avventura, the mediterranean is a dull grey slate dotted with jet black protuberances while that of Clement is a washed-out nightmare where only the most brutal and beautiful fear to tread.

Re-visiting Plein Soleil was a real treat that only continues to confirm my feeling that Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning Talented Mr Ripley is actually the weakest of all the Ripley films while Clement’s adaptation and Liliana Cavani’s take on Ripley’s Game remain sadly under-rated.