Purple Noon (Plein Soleil)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
Alain Delon, then only 25, is deliciously well-cast as the mysterious Ripley, a sleek, smooth faced, Dorian Gray-style deceiver. This early version of Patricia Highsmith's doppelganger mystery, The Talented Mr. Ripley, was to be Delon's breakthrough role. Delon had other great parts in these first years of his career; some, like Rocco and His Brothers in 1960, and The Leopard, in 1963, better remembered than Plein Soleil, but it was Plein Soleil which made Delon's exquisite features a visual synonym for decadence.
Delon's Ripley is empty of the checks on human behavior the rest of us take for granted, not so much immoral as amoral, a perpetual outsider. As he forces us to confront exactly what we mean by "evil," Delon's Ripley walks some of the same hot sands as Camus' The Stranger. Like DeQuincey's joking epigram on the nature of murder, we're invited down a slippery slope of big crimes begetting little ones. Once we grow used to living in Ripley's unhinged world, the lies he uses to maintain his fictions seem inevitable.
Master cinematographer Henri Decae, fresh from shooting the very different 400 Blows for Francois Truffaut, gives Plein Soleil a paradoxical noir feeling, using color and blazing sunshine to the same disturbing ends that American cinematographers employ black and white film and darkness. Decae's northern Italy is simultaneously a resort paradise and a hell of selfish motives and casual violence.
Director Renée Clément invites us to notice a queer, beguiling quality in Delon; the shots of Delon's eyes, like a viper looking over his prey, are a conspiracy between Clément and Decae to make Ripley's potential for mayhem known only to us We start to come loose from our own bearings, as Ripley sets up for another vicious act to cover the tracks he'd made in committing some other calculated mischief, and we find ourselves improbably rooting for him. After all, young Ripley seems like such a nice boy…
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
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