Ian Thomas Malone

alain delon Archive



August 2021



Classic Film: La Piscine

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The prestige TV landscape has a certain fascination with beautiful rich people doing awful things in beautiful settings. 1969’s La Piscine (titled The Swimming Pool internationally) takes two of France’s top stars of the era, Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, and deposits them in the Côte d’Azur. The dreamy narrative quickly descends into a gripping psychological thriller as the characters find themselves with little to do besides lay in the sun, basking in their own grievances.

Jean-Paul (Delon) and Marianne (Schneider) are staying at a friend’s villa for a month. The beautiful scenery of the French Riviera provides ample kindling for the non-stop sexual tension between the two, a relationship that’s just over the two years mark. Jean-Paul is a failed novelist with a perpetual chip on his shoulder, unhappy with his job at an advertising agency.

The arrival of an old friend, Harry (Maurice Ronet), and his daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin), rekindles old flames and older grudges. Harry, an old lover to Marianne and friend/rival to Jean-Paul, has done extremely well as a record producer, eager to rub his success in anyone and everyone’s faces. The hot sun provides more than adequate kindling for jealousy to transcend fantasy into reality.

As the title suggests, La Piscine takes place almost entirely around the swimming pool and its corresponding villa. The small cast and intimate setting work quite well for director Jacques Deray to craft his psychological case study into the ugly nature of human emotion. There’s barely any plot in the 124-minute narrative, but Deray brings a keen sense of timing to his pacing. The sleepy story never manages to drag, a highly impressive feat giving the scope of the production. If it weren’t for the swimming pool, the whole production could have been easily adapted into a stage play.

Delon and Schneider, who were in a long-term relationship that ended several years before the production, have a sense of chemistry that’s perfect for the narrative. Their passion is real, but it’s an aged sense of love, peppered with loss, never quite able to completely hide the scars of time. Summer’s lust stirs the emotions, surfacing a kind of innate sadness.

In Jean-Paul, longtime Delon fans will see a different side of the actor floating in the water. Delon has a knack for playing impeccably suave hotshots, mavericks with devil-may-care attitudes. Here, Jean-Paul does care, a vulnerability rarely seen from the iconic actor.

The summer months fly by in the blink of an eye. La Piscine delights in its slow-burn story, a gripping thriller powered by three lead actors at the height of their craft. The story itself is a little rougher around the edges. Deray doesn’t always display a clear sense of purpose for Birkin, whose Penelope frequently skirts between being an actual character and a mere object of fascination for the rest of the cast. Similarly, the backstory of Harry’s relationships with Jean-Paul and Marianne remains a bit unclear, receiving only scattershot mentions throughout the narrative that seems to contradict itself at times.

There’s a reason shows like Big Little Lies and The White Lotus throw unlikable rich people into exotic locations to be awful to each other. Hedonism tickles the mind, extreme wealth and lust eliciting naturally intense emotions. La Piscine understands that better than most, a masterpiece that packs quite a punch in modern times.



August 2020



Classic Film: The Widow Couderc

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The thought of stumbling upon another family’s internal drama is quite frightening, yet this dynamic supplies much of the fodder for reality television. To watch others hurl proverbial feces at each other can evoke a certain desire to turn inward, to take stock of one’s own life and character. Decades away from any installments of The Real Housewives, 1971’s The Widow Couderc (original French title La veuve Couderc) strikes at the messy nature of family relationships.

Jean (Alain Delon) is a simple man trying to escape from prison. A quiet village next to a canal in Burgundy offers a place to lie low from the police, where Jean finds work in the service of an older woman named Tati (Simone Signoret). Tati doesn’t have much to call her own besides the roof over her head, land coveted by her late husband’s family. For Jean, caught between Tati and her young niece Félicie (Ottavia Piccolo), the feud invites the kind of attention he’d be wise to avoid.

Much of the film is fueled by the sexual tension between Delon and Signoret, two immensely talented actors who bring out the best in each other. Both are on the run in a way, Jean more literally than Tati, two souls desperate for more than what life has to offer. Neither one of them are particularly good people, both using Félicie as a foil for their worst instincts, but the film presents a compelling perspective on logic clashing with desire.

The sleepy canal town, with a manually operated drawbridge, functions as a town in its own right. Hardly a place anyone would wish to visit, the quiet community only comes alive when something dares to disrupt its peaceful existence. Property is fought over not because it’s valuable, but seemingly because there’s nothing else for one to occupy their time with. The drama fills the void.

The Widow Couderc is a contemplative narrative, one more concerned with raising questions than presenting answers. The acting is top notch, with Delon and Signoret in peak form. We often don’t get to pick the circumstances in our lives, only the way we choose to react. Decisions don’t always need to make sense, reflective of the humanity that guides us for better or for worse.



May 2020



Classic Film: Un Flic

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Jean-Pierre Melville’s final film is a tough nut to crack. There are parts of Un Flic that feel oddly undeveloped, the product of a director less concerned with plot than the broader themes the narrative spends its time exploring. For a master of the medium, sometimes that’s okay.

The narrative follows a robbery and its aftermath. Simon (Richard Crenna) leads the gang in their efforts to carry out of their thievery while Detective Coleman (Alain Delon) works the case. At the center of their feud is Cathy (Catherine Deneuve), Simon’s mistress who flirts with Coleman. The story and character relationships often exist on two different planes, simultaneously distant and intimate.

The film’s great triumph is a lengthy heist sequence in the second half, where Simon boards a train via helicopter to rob a rival gang of their heroin. Melville pulls off a fantastic technical feat for a film made in 1972, using minimal dialogue while maintaining an intense level of suspense. For a director making his last feature, Un Flic would be worth a watch just for the craftsmanship.

While the heist sequence is the best part of the film, it does come at a broader cost to the narrative. Stealing heroin from a rival gang has practically nothing to do with Un Flic’s broader story. Taking a twenty-minute detour out of a hundred-minute runtime does hinder the character development quite a bit.

Melville creates a rather interesting dynamic where the film operates largely without a protagonist. Coleman appears too infrequently to fit the bill, a gruff man with practically no personality beyond Delon’s irresistible charm. Simon is sort of like an anti-hero, except Melville doesn’t really provide a reason to root for him.

Some of this is rational is explained through the film’s tagline, “The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference and derision.” Coleman isn’t in pursuit of justice, a man who acts oddly cruel to a transgender woman for no apparent reason. He’s stoic without the obvious desire for justice that drives many detectives in film.

Melville concerns himself with very complex themes in Un Flic while keeping the narrative mostly at the surface. It’s not a particularly deep film, though the kind that’s bound to keep you thinking long after the credits roll. It is not Melville’s best work.

Narratives are tricky beast. There’s only so much time for a director to explore contemplative themes once considerations to story and character are given. Melville skimps on those in Un Flic in favor of headier ambitions. He doesn’t always succeed, but the film is worth watching if only to see a master of the craft at work with his thoughts.