In 2012, Jean-Louis Trintignant played an elderly husband having to deal with his beloved wife’s illness in Michael Haneke’s Palme D’Or winning Amour. New Wave icon Emmanuelle Riva played Trintignant’s wife while Isabelle Huppert took on the role of their daughter. Haneke’s film makes for stark, even a little unsettling, comparison with Deep Water, a picture which offers a very different portrayal of married life and which features two of Amour’s three leads. In Michel Deville’s film, an adaptation of Highsmith’s 1957 novel, Trintignant and Huppert play Vic and Mélanie Allen, a husband and wife who live on the island of Jersey with their young daughter Marion (Sandrine Kljajic). Mélanie, who’s considerably younger than middle-aged Vic, has a string of extra-marital flirtations and affairs, all with her husband’s apparent consent. But when one of these lovers is found murdered, Vic becomes the prime suspect.
In her original novel, which was inspired by one of her own romantic relationships, Highsmith wanted to convey the atmosphere of a marriage turned sour and the film captures this perfectly. The first lines of the book are some of the most powerfully economical in all Highsmith: ‘Vic didn’t dance, but not for the reasons that most men who don’t dance give to themselves. He didn’t dance simply because his wife liked to dance […] she was insufferably silly when she danced. She made dancing embarrassing.’ Deville starts with this scene too. Accompanied by Manuel de Falla’s ‘Harpsichord Concerto’ we see a medium close-up of Mélanie’s bejewelled hands, criss-crossed over a man’s shoulders as they slow dance. The camera makes its way down to her red shoes before panning along the dance floor and revealing a stony-faced Vic. The film is filled with these inventive pairings of image and sound with Deville adding a touch more black humour than the original book.
In a 1986 interview with Michel Coulombe, the director said the film was an enjoyable exercise in adaptation: ‘I prefer to be unfaithful to the book to be faithful to the author, unfaithful with specifics but faithful to the spirit.’