It’s the Cannes Film Festival month, so in May I’m going to dedicate more space than usual to cinema on my blog (which really makes sense since I do love film more than fashion). So expect a Fashion in Film installment each week, classic and new European movies features, and a few other articles on the subject in between.
Today I’m going to talk about the style in Plein soleil (1960), the first adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s book, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Am I allowed to change my mind? In my feature on the costumes in The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was saying I preferred the 1999 remake. Well, I think I will stick to the classic after all. René Clément’s gripping thriller focusing on the cruel, but cool Tom Ripley (Alain Delon), who ingeniously and skillfully finds ways to further his finances and lifestyle, is much more subtle in portraying the darkness of the character. And by choosing Alain Delon for the role, who embodies a stylish and handsome anti-hero, you almost get to identify with him, or at least you don’t start to criticize Ripley’s motives, but observe him and get to know him intimately.
Plein soleil is a visually beautiful film – Highsmith described it as “very beautiful to the eye and interesting for the intellect” – and its style reminds me of Hitchcok’s works. Clément himself was a technician, too, who had trained as an architect and made his debut in cinema as a cameraman, and if you watch the film, you’ll be able to observe all these influences on each frame. In fact, he was named the French Alfred Hitchcock after he made this film. The cinematography, by Henri Decaë, is exquisite and the sun-drenched mise-en-scène (the picture was shot entirely on location, in Rome, Naples and the vicinity islands) sharply contrasts the themes of envy, deceit and murder. One other fascinating thing about it is that it is an unusual noir: all is bright and in the open, inviting, once again, the viewer in. And this is also the reason why I prefer the French title: plein soleil. The English translation, Purple Noon, is misfortunate, because it fails to capture that very inescapable feeling of enjoyment under the Mediterranean sunlight, despite the dark plot.
Alain Delon, in his first major part, plays Tom Ripley to perfection – even Patricia Highsmith agreed. With his arresting good looks and stylish wardrobe, Delon makes a more sinister Ripley than Matt Damon would succeed to in Anthony Minghella’s version. We don’t need dialogue to be made aware of the character’s darting intelligence. And this itself is a great cinematic achievement, something that, yet again, reminds me of Hitchcock. But part of the credit goes to Delon, who manages to portray a complex character without many words.
Moving on to the costumes, they were designed by Bella Clément. From his first outfit of a light blue oxford button-down shirt, off-white jeans and brown suede horsebit loafers, Alain Delon embodies masculine effortless elegance – appreciating the classic codes of dress, but with a relaxed, even rebellious feel. Maurice Ronet plays Philippe Greenleaf, whom Ripley has to convince to go back to his father in San Francisco, and if he succeeds, he will receive $5,000. Ronet’s wardrobe deserves attention, too. He skips about Rome in fluid trousers and shirts wide open on the chest (the buttons seem to be too much of a hassle to deal with), hinting of his leisurely, la dolce vita lifestyle as he travels through Europe, having fun being his only purpose. Both characters are clothes-conscious, to the point of being cool in their looks and manners.
Rolled up chinos, linen shirts and suits, polo shirts, sockless loafers, and the classic watch, shades of white, blue, navy, pink and grey – that’s the general dress code of the main male characters. The ideal wardrobe for the Italian landscape of luscious blue seas, waterfronts and picturesque coastal villages.
As for the female character, Marge Duval (Marie Laforêt), Philippe’s fiancé, her costumes consist of la marinière, in red and white, white ankle cut trousers, a white summer dress, a more elegant white dress and matching short-sleeved jacket, a black and white gingham dress, white skirt suit, white ballet flats or heeled pumps, black one-piece bathing suits and oversized pink shirt as a cover up. Simple, chic, very French.
We also get to see Tom Ripley in a few suits, a navy linen suit and a white linen one, and one other more elegant grey suit. He is a man of details. He wears tie to his linen suits, but loses the belt. But when he dresses in a more elegant suit (below), he doesn’t wear a belt or a tie either. These are the kind of finishing touches that usually elevate a look. The loafer remains the footwear de rigueur, and so it should in summer time.
Lightweight summer blazer, soft shirt with flapper collar and rolled up sleeves, and this time we have a belt with smart-casual slim (not skinny – guys, take notice!) trousers with buttoned pockets, in a different shade of grey than the blazer, sockless loafers. It’s again in the details, they make this a timeless, laid-back look, cool and put-together at the same time.
Another style note, but one that can not be too easily pulled off, is wearing a blazer in a different colour than the trousers, like in the example above (navy blazer/grey trousers). Delon does a flawless job though. I love this styling for men and I think it is the best smart look.
The red and navy striped regatta blazer, above, is a mix of the nautical and preppy styles.
Now, I should warn you that if haven’t read the book and if you haven’t watched the film, you shouldn’t go on reading. One of the reasons why I used to like The Talented Mr. Ripley more than Plein soleil was that Tom Ripley got away in the end, thus respecting the ending in the book. But since then I’ve learned that a good film, if it’s an adaptation of a book, doesn’t have to remain too loyal to the narration. As Hitchcock (it seems that every way I turn, when it comes to this film, I see an association with him) points out in his interviews with François Truffaut (I’m reading the book Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock at the moment and I find it fascinating), a good book is in itself a work of art and out of respect for other artists’ work, his approach had always been that if he liked the basic idea, he would forget all about the book and start to create cinema. We tend to forget what pure cinema is about. That’s one thing about the ending of Plein soleil. The other thing is that, cinematically speaking, we don’t actually see Tom Ripley caught and hand-cuffed by the police, we only see him heading towards them, unaware and carefree – it’s a more elusive end, open to interpretation.
photos: movie stills, captured by me from this blu-ray edition