Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) (1960)

René Clément’s adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley stars 24 year-old Alain Delon in the title role. We first find his Tom Ripley living la dolce vita with wealthy industrialist’s son Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) in Italy. He’s been hired by Greenleaf Sr. to convince Philippe to return home but this couldn’t be further from Ripley’s mind as he becomes completely intoxicated by Philippe’s carefree lifestyle.

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Plein Soleil was released in 1960, at a time when the French New Wave was coming into full flower. Young, up-and-coming filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol all released films that year – a real annus mirabilis for French film, and indeed European cinema more widely. Clément belonged to the older generation of directors and at that point was probably most famous for The Battle of the Rails (1946) and Forbidden Games (1952), two important, yet very different films about France under Nazi occupation. Critic André Farwagi once noted that ‘Clément’s narrative efficacity is reminiscent of the great American directors’ and this might explain why Truffaut claimed in the pages of Cahiers du cinéma that ‘Clément is not an artist, even though he possesses the intellectual means, the physical and mental energy that is the envy of most filmmakers. He will never give us a bad film, but neither will he give us a masterpiece.’ You can imagine this kind of vaguely sniffy backhanded compliment being aimed once or twice at Highsmith too, but over the course of their respective careers, both the novelist and filmmaker proved themselves masters of their respective arts.

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Featuring the rich colour photography of Henri Decaë and mediterranean melodies of composer Nino Rota, Plein Soleil was adapted for the screen by Clément and Paul Gégauff. Blotzheim-born Gégauff was one of French cinema’s most mercurial figures, a frequent collaborator of Chabrol and a character that could have easily stepped out of the pages of a Highsmith novel. The author herself, while feeling that certain compromises had been made to reach as wide an audience as possible, ultimately deemed Clément’s picture to be ‘very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect.’

Pasquale Iannone