Didier Le Pêcheur’s Don’t Let Me Die on a Sunday derives its morbid title from an exasperated plea delivered by an overworked morgue attendant, after a unusually copious consignment of casualties from a Saturday night rave concert is wheeled in for confinement prior to being chopped up for autopsies. Among the new arrivals is a beautiful corpse named Térésa, played, or rather, posed, by Élodie Bouchez, the art-film sensation of Erick Zonca’s The Dream Life of Angels (1998).
The film opens with Térésa still very much alive, in the throes of an Ecstasy-induced frenzy and surrounded by male seducers. She is alternately panicked and passionately permissive, bobbing and weaving to an insistent disco beat. Like the rest of the film, this delirious opening achieves its erotic effect more through what it suggests than what it shows. The stylistic key is the emphasis on Ms. Bouchez’s expressive eyes, and on the oppressively intimate camera work with movements that are more tentative than purposive.
What we are being set up for in a deliberately voyeuristic manner is the spectacle of a naked corpse being raped by a morgue attendant named Ben (Jean-Marc Barr). Then almost miraculously, Térésa comes alive, ultimately very little the worse for wear physically, but utterly transformed spiritually. There is more than one mocking reference to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, with Ben in complete disgrace for his “unnatural” act. Yet neither Térésa’s parents nor Térésa herself chooses to press charges against Ben for his “service.” Ben’s superiors suspend him for a short period, but nothing seems to faze this emerging nihilist. Even his detached expression seldom changes, whatever the provocation. Least of all does he seem affected by Térésa’s odd obsession with him as her savior. Discerning that he is spiritually dead as she was mistakenly perceived to be physically dead, she is determined to bring his spiritual corpse back to life even if it means following him into his underworld of bisexual promiscuity, sadomasochism and an acceptance of death as the ever-present spectral guest at the poisoned banquet of life. Indeed, the gloomy grays and blacks of Mr. Le Pêcheur’s and his cinematographer Denis Rouden’s canvasses of despairing carnality make Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) look like a Happy Valentine’s Day card.
French viewers may have a better idea of where the film is supposed to be set than I do. The interiors are usually more crowded with people than the exteriors. Hence there is very little background ambience. The transitions from place to place are virtually nonexistent. In terms of the traditional well-made film with its rotation between day and night, with its focal balance between long shots and close-ups, with its visually-established identification of lead characters through their comparative prominence in the frame over their deferential inferiors, Don’t Let Me Die on a Sunday is nothing if not muddled.
At one point, an AIDS subplot begins to overshadow the fluctuating relationship between Ben and Térésa. A dying AIDS patient is willingly abducted from his hospital deathbed and taken by motorboat to an isolated country house where he can die in his own bed surrounded by friends. He asks Térésa if she had any experiences on the “other side.” She answers, as a Bergman character would, that there was nothing out there.
I respect the writer-director for sticking to his guns on this issue if only as a corrective to all the afterlife slop coming out of mainstream studios. But I can’t help wondering if he has overextended his narrative with his bleak prognosis for contemporary existence. Also, the lack of concrete detail makes it difficult to accept the characters on a realistic level. For example, no one seems to have any problem with money, though with the exception of the morgue attendants, no one seems to have any kind of job or profession. There are also two security cops and a boatman, that latter of whom is so strikingly picturesque that he seems to represent an updated Charon piloting his passengers across the River Styx to Hades. That is where the AIDS victim is dying, though he is lingering longer than his guilt-ridden friends would prefer.
The movie as a whole leaves no place for this situation, even as dark humor. Still, the inexhaustible availability of sex makes all the gloom and doom a small price to pay for an exhilarating turn-on entertainment, particularly with the sentient and sensual Ms. Bouchez erupting on the screen.
All About Eve : Beware the Unseen Cut
Joseph Losey’s Eve ( Eva in Europe), from a screenplay by Hugo Butler and Evan Jones, based on the novel by James Hadley Chase, is a 1962 movie that has just completed a one-week run at the Film Forum with a promise from its distributor, Kino International, that the most complete extant version-which, in this instance, is not the director’s cut-will be shown in the near future. According to the Kino production notes, “Losey’s preferred cut of the finished picture ran for 155 minutes. After a private screening in Paris, the director was advised to cut it drastically. And it was cut by over half an hour for the gala Paris opening. In preparing an English version, the producers slashed it even further and redubbed it. Losey was incensed, but enjoyed no authorial copyright over the English export prints.”
On principle, I support all enterprises of film revival, restoration, rediscovery, etc., but with a healthy dose of skepticism. The point in this case is that although it is desirable to see the most complete available version of a film, the restored footage almost never turns bad into good. I saw Eve (or Eva ) back around 1962 and I remember not liking it, though I cannot remember if I saw the original foreign-language print or the redubbed English print. Actually, what I remember most is the image of an inscrutable Jeanne Moreau sitting in a bedroom, a cigarette dangling from her lips, listening to a Billie Holiday recording . She was so worldly, so sophisticated, so bored with everything else, including her ridiculously masochistic admirer, Stanley Baker’s Tyvian Jones, a successful Welsh novelist who had falsely claimed to have once been a full-fledged coal miner. It turns out that he had only worked in the coal mines for six weeks to get “atmosphere” for stories his late brother, an honest-to-goodness coal miner, had told him.
I hadn’t remembered all the tripe about Tyvian until I saw the film again at Film Forum, but I did remember Baker, a heroic Henry Tudor in Laurence Olivier’s Richard III (1955) and a stirring noir hero in Losey’s own 1960 The Criminal ( The Concrete Jungle in the U.S.), being made to look silly as Tyvian chasing forlornly after his indifferent Eve, only to have a door slammed in his face on one occasion and his face slashed with a whip on another, persisting in his pursuit to the bitter end of his descent from international celebrity to barroom bum.
The movie’s troubles started when Losey insisted on switching the locale of James Hadley Chase’s trashy pulp novel from Los Angeles to Venice and Rome. Naturally, the affair between a writer and a prostitute in Los Angeles had to be changed to one between a world-famous novelist and a high-class French courtesan in Italy. When one looks at the movie today one is struck by how completely Losey was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the two cities and their glorious pasts. As a consequence, the characters all dwindle into figures on a landscape to the point that on several occasions I could not distinguish between Ms. Moreau and Virna Lisi as Tyvian’s ill-fated wife, Francesca-not that I cared particularly. All the characters are paper-thin and minimally articulated. The rest is a soporific blend of Federico Fellini’s watered-down La Dolce Vita (1960) and what I once designated as Antoni-ennui.
As it turned out, Eve (or Eva ) was only a temporary bump on the road for Losey, who entered the richest period of his post-
Hollywood-blacklist career with The Servant (1963), King and Country (1964), Accident (1967; again with Stanley Baker) and The Go-Between (1971). As for Ms. Moreau, she was still basking in the glow she emitted from François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1961) and Jacques Demy’s Bay of the Angels (1963) and to this day has made 140 screen appearances. So they both survived what most of my colleagues refuse to recognize as a disaster, artistic as well as commercial. See for yourself when you have the chance.
As for my general attitude toward “restorations” and “directors’ cuts,” I have seen many of the greatest films of all time in both drastically cut and later restored versions: Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert’s Children of Paradise (1945); Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943); and Max Ophül’s Lola Montès (1955). In each instance, I got enough of a chill up my spine while watching the cut version to realize that I was in the presence of a masterpiece, a realization that was merely amplified and expanded when I saw the whole thing in its original form. Even if I never see the “lost” Orson Welles footage from The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), it will remain a truly great film.