Thursday, April 6, 2006

Death Watch (Le Mort en Direct)

: Bertrand Tavernier
Written by David Rayfiel, Bertrand Tavernier from a novel by D. G. Compton
Starring Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, Harry Dean Stanton
IMDB Entry

It's not hard to understand why this film is obscure:  As far as I know, it wasn't released in the US, except maybe in a few major markets.

I only saw it by chance.  I was at a science fiction convention -- Paracon in State College, PA around 1983 -- with SF agent Virginia Kidd as a guest (Kidd was one of the top SF agents at the time).  She brought the film, since it was based on a novel by one of her clients:  D. G. Compton's The Continuous Katherine Mortinhoe (US title: The Unsleeping Eye). It was shown at the con (a big deal, since this was before consumer videotapes) to a sparse audience, and, in her Guest of Honor speech, chastised the convention-goers for not seeing it (I had, so I felt good).

The movie has Keitel as a TV reporter who has a camera implanted in his eye to watch Schneider a woman who is slowly dying.  It's set in the future, where death is rare (at least, the natural death of a young person) and watching it happen was a type of reality show (long before the genre was created in the US). Keitel begins to interact with the woman and loses his objectivity and is finally transformed.

It's a neat look at a near future society.  Things haven't much changed, but there are subtle hints of the things that are.  One memorable one is when Keitel tells the store clerk there is something wrong with the subliminals after you heard a soft voice saying, "Do not shoplift" as he walks through.

It's hard to figure out what happened to the film.  This was just about the time Keitel was emerging as a critically acclaimed actor, and I did see coming attractions for the film some time after I saw it.  But I never saw it open.  Maybe Hollywood wasn't interested in thoughtful science fiction, especially if it came from a book.

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