Behind an enigmatic title, Purple Noon or Plein Soleil in native French hides a visually impressive and intriguing thriller that you might be familiar with. After all, it’s based on a novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and I’m sure you’ve heard of the 1999 adaptation starring Matt Damon. It serves as an excellent period movie, showing you the Mediterranean in the sixties in all its glory. Mesmerizing and dreamy cinematography blew me away right away.
The very color of the sea, that deep blue and the coastline with small stone houses perched on cliffs feel almost like artificial sets. The entire thing feels like a movie within a movie, helping you escape the dreary present. You have to sense a moment for these older movies, to watch them when you’re in the mood for something like this. The same goes for the first twenty minutes of the movie where I felt the scenes were too loose and silly. Don’t let this dissuade you and just stick with it. I usually pay attention to things in the background, how people dressed back then and how the streets looked.
Purple Noon is also the first big movie for a future star of French cinema, the immortal Alan Delon. As a straight guy, all I can say about him is what a beautiful and dashing man. Combined with a dreamy setting, I’m sure he was the source of so many daydreams in the following decades. Despite his young age and appearance, he was able to pull off all the trickery that was required of him here. And he brought an even more threatening quality to the character of Tom Ripley like he’s able to accomplish almost anything and get away with it. It’s no wonder that he’s half-naked on the poster luring both male and female audiences to the show. Maurice Ronet and Marie Laforêt were also excellent as Phillipe and Marge. Especially Maurice who was believable as the rich and douchy guy, belittling and making fun of Tom without mercy.
Philippe Greenleaf has it all. He’s a son of a wealthy businessman and spends his days sailing and enjoying the good life in Europe. Tired of his antics, his father sends Tom Ripley, a dashing young man strapped for cash, to persuade him to come back to America. The two of them, however, spend their days drinking and chasing women. And while it seems like they are best friends, tensions start to rise between Tom and Philippe…
The comparisons between the two adaptations are inevitable. This one is more voyeuristic and ambiguous. It doesn’t concern itself with building a single narrative and molding the story into a neat package. This made it a bit more disjointed but that’s covered up by stylish visuals. We are left to build our narrative and guess what our characters are thinking and doing. While the modern adaptation was a sleek and streamlined version of events. I like both of them, as they offer different qualities, especially since the Purple Noon is now over sixty years old.
Considering some of the movies released around this period, Plein Soleil looks amazing. Director René Clément altered some of the scenes and added new lines of dialogue, building on already great material. So, whether you want to make a night out of it and watch the two movies back to back or just revel in this atmospheric masterpiece, choose your timing carefully. If you’re looking for movies similar to Purple Noon, I recommend you check out moody French thriller Le samouraï or more urban Belle de jour. And if you want to stay in the sunny setting here are a couple more movies: Pierrot le Fou, Le mépris and Pauline à la plage.
Director: René Clément
Writers: Patricia Highsmith, René Clément, Paul Gégauff
Cast: Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt, Maurice Ronet, Erno Crisa, Frank Latimore, Ave Ninchi, Elvire Popesco, Nicolas Petrov
Fun Facts: The movie’s original title (and the title of the book from which is was adapted), “Plein Soleil”, translates as “Full Sun.”