René Clément's Purple Noon is a devilish little thriller about Tom Ripley, an American who travels to Europe in an effort to convince his friend, the roving playboy Phillippe, to travel home to San Francisco at the request of his wealthy family. On Tom's arrival in Italy, the two old friends immediately reconnect, spending a jovial night on the town, much to the chagrin of Philippe's fiance, Marge. Tom and Phillipe's relationship is introduced as jubilant and intimate during their rendezvous, having lots of homoerotic undercurrents, but as the booze runs low, along with Tom's funds for being in Europe in the first place, it becomes increasingly clear that Phillippe and Tom's relationship may not be as close as we were led to believe, leading to tension as it becomes clear that Phillippe has no intentions of returning to the United States. Considering how much Tom is enjoying this extravagant lifestyle, one that is funded by Phillippe's financial state back home, this revelation leaves Tom left to evaluate his options, something which slowly reveals the nefarious nature of Phillippe and Tom's relationship, one built on envy and obsession. I don't remember Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley well enough as a film to draw detailed comparisons and I haven't read Patricia Highsmith's novel, but if memory serves me correctly (no promises), Purple Noon is a significantly better film in nearly every way that Minghella's adaptation, as Clement has created a clever, intoxicating thriller thats craft, acting, characterization, and narrative pacing are all vastly superior. One of the main things that stood out to me about Purple Moon is Clement's wonderful use of composition throughout, tactfully framing his film in ways that evoke the emotions of characters or the circumstances which they inhabit. My favorite example of this is Clement's juxtaposition of the mirror scene (pictured above) with a scene on the boat in which both Tom and Phillipe's are engaged in conversation, both their heads stuffed into the composition. With both compositions being eerily similar in terms of spacing and placement, and both taking place before the murder of Phillipe, Rene Clement is telling the story visually, foreshadowing Tom's envy and attempted identity transference through imagery, something which wouldn't be particularly noticeable to the novice viewer. When Tom goes through the arduous task of ditching the body of one of Phillipe's friends who gets too nosey, Clement repeatedly has the composition focusing solely on the feet of Tom, evoking a primal understanding of what is transpiring in front of the viewer, as we see one pair of feet struggle and strain to drag another man's body across the floor. It's a tad hard to explain, clearly, but the choice of composition is more visceral and expressionistic, a "boot in the dirt" type of photography that strips Tom of his identifiable features, like his face, showing the disposal of a body on the most pure, basic form. Alain Delon is great in this role too, his boyish good looks and general demeanor exquisitely masking his underlying envy and obsession. Delon's performance is subtly terrifying because of his mild-mannered, cool approach, with the film routinely showing flashes of his more diabolical state, but doing so in a way that never makes it entirely clear whether Tom is simply a deceptive con artists or a psychologically disturbed individual. The film's ability to blur this line is one of its stronger attributes, with Tom's actions indicating that both factors are more likely than not a piece of that puzzle. From the intrigue of the relationship between Tom and Phillippe early on, the homosexual undercurrents and mysterious tension, to the escalation of Tom's attempted identity transference after Phillippe's murder, simply put, Rene Clement's Purple Noon is an effective, diabolical thriller that is well acted, well crafted, and well told, being a film that keeps the viewer engaged from start to finish.
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