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April 9 - 10, 2005

Tremors of Forgery: Filming Patricia Highsmith

Frequently, filmmakers talk about “getting away with it,” about those serendipities when they are able to make the movie they want to, despite the enormous pressures put on them by their producers, distributors, and audiences. No wonder, then, that so many of them—from Hitchcock and Melville to Wenders, Cavani, and Malkovich—are attracted to the writing of Patricia Highsmith, whose greatest character, Tom Ripley, gets away with far more, far more often, than even the most delusional auteur.

In this tightly focused series we look at two versions of two of Highsmith’s Ripley novels. Each initial film — Purple Noon or The American Friend — is less adaptation than reckoning: what is at stake in our fascination with the suave murderer? And each follow-up film — The Talented Mr. Ripley or Ripley’s Game — is less remake than restoration: can we push our sympathies even further? What might we lose?

Reckoning and restoration may evoke moral problems of suasion and imposture, but these moral problems are realized only through especially fine specifics: beautiful boats, pieces of wood becoming frames, colonnades in fading lakeshore light, and performances that suggest that we should all know what close cousins decency and horror really are.

Introduction by J. D. Connor


April 9 (Saturday) 7 pm (Free Screening)

Ripley’s Game

Directed by Liliana Cavani
US/UK/Italy, 2002, color, 110 min.
With With John Malkovich, Ray Winstone, Uwe Mansshardt
English, German, and Italian with English subtitles

Based on the third installment in Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley series, Ripley’s Game is set twenty years after The Talented Mr. Ripley and finds the title character with greater wealth and sophistication. Played with erudition and detached charisma by John Malkovich, Ripley is asked by an associate to relieve the pressure being exerted on him by competing mafia groups. Exhibiting his voracious appetite for devious games, Ripley cons a terminally ill man who insults him at a party to commit the requisite murder. The film hinges on the performance of Malkovich and takes joy in its flaunting of conventional morality.

April 9 (Saturday)9 pm

The American Friend

Directed by Wim Wenders
West Germany, 1977, color, 123 min.
With With Bruno Ganz, Dennis Hopper, Lisa Kreuzer
German and English with English subtitles

International intrigue, art and homicide, film and contemporary culture form the matrix of themes that underpin Wenders's brilliant quasi-thriller, loosely adapted from Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game. A terminally ill picture framer in Hamburg (Ganz) reluctantly agrees to become a hit man to insure the future of his soon-to-be widow (Kreuzer). Duplicity and ambiguity reign as he crosses paths with double-crossing killers (including filmmaker Sam Fuller) and shady American art dealer Tom Ripley, played by Dennis Hopper in cowboy gear.

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April 10 (Sunday) 7 pm

Purple Noon (Plein Soleil)

Directed by René Clément
France, 1962, color, 119 min.
With With Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Laforêt
French with English subtitles

Based on Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, René Clément’s stylish 1960 adaptation stars Alain Delon as the pathological chameleon who ingratiates himself into the lives of the rich and idle. Delon’s Ripley is both delightfully hedonistic and sublimely creepy as he plots to murder and assume the identity of an American industrialist’s son. Set against the sun- and color-drenched shades of the Italian Riviera, this noirish thriller, superbly photographed by Henri Decaë, provides a tautly crafted critique of class and desire.

April 10 (Sunday) 9 pm

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Directed by Anthony Minghella
US, 1999, color, min.
With With Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law

Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, and a remake of Rene Clement’s Purple Noon, Minghella’s film is filled with beautiful imagery, although often at the cost of psychological complexity and depth. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), a restroom attendant in Manhattan, befriends a wealthy man under false pretenses and, at the man’s behest, travels to Italy to lure his son back home. After ingratiating himself into the son’s life, Ripley’s moral flexibility and skill at impersonation lead to an attempted usurpation of the man’s identity. Damon’s Ripley is less threatening than Highsmith’s, and the film exposes Ripley’s homosexual desires more than the novel.

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