1960s French Amnesia Thriller Starring Alain Delon Returns to Focus.
DIRECTED BY JULIEN DUVIVIER/1967
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: NOVEMBER 19, 2019/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Alain Delon plays Georges, a sexually frustrated recovering amnesiac trying to figure out what’s what in prolific French director Julien Duvivier’s (Pépé le Moko) final film, the contained thriller, Diabolically Yours.
While no one would argue that Diabolically Yours (Diaboliquement Votre) is any kind of major treatise or even particularly all that smart, it works entirely well as a wholly watchable potboiler. Opening at over 100 miles per hour (or, this being rural France, the appropriate metric conversion), Diabolically Yours bursts forth as boldly as the jazz-infused sequence is weird. You see, the rapid hood-ornament POV liberally and garishly transitions back and forth to an operating room. Because, you guessed it, this car cannot last going this fast. Crash!!! And into the movie proper…
When the bandages come off in the next scene, the driver is revealed to be French leading man Alain Delon. He has no memory of who he was or the people around him- though the woman claiming to be his wife is ridiculously beautiful (Senta Berger, playing “conflicted” quite well) and the attentive but mysterious presence of Chinese houseman Kim (Peter Mosbacher, not actually Chinese) correctly indicates that he came from great wealth. Hey, this life sounds pretty good!
But then come the nightmares (something to do with his past life as a force of wrongdoing in China), then comes the suicidal thoughts. Then comes his wife drifting about provocatively in sexy robes and short fashionable skirts, refusing his every advance due to his medical situation. Even their palatial countryside castle home quickly begins to feel like a prison to him. And is someone trying to murder him?? Apparently, he used to be a very bad person. Does this fit of amnesia represent a chance to remake himself? (Convenient how amnesia movies so often default to the human blank slate being inherently good. To the credit of Diabolically Yours, this guy is never that good.)
The very fact that this film has been labeled an “amnesia thriller” tips you off before you even watch it that it is, in fact, a ridiculous story. Because really, all amnesia stories are ridiculous, are they not? (They are.) Even the good ones that resort, if only in part, to the device, like Sullivan’s Travels, have that as a weakness. Diabolically Yours though, isn’t just some amnesia. It’s all amnesia, all the time.
Which isn’t to say the movie stinks. It actually doesn’t. This is just a way of contextualizing the territory in which Duvivier is operating, and is consequently restraining himself within. The film is based on a book by Louis C. Thomas, which, to my knowledge and appropriately enough, seems to have been forgotten. I suppose the same is actually true of this film, being that this Blu-ray release is my first exposure to Diabolically Yours in any way, shape, or form. Again, that can not indicate that the movie is inherently bad; it simply is what it is.
There’s something sexy about being given a second chance, and Diabolically Yours is happy to flirt around with it, never going all the way on screen. He’s sexy, she’s sexy, the place is sexy- which makes the overt lack of sex the film’s well-construed point of frustration. Delon plays it fully, totally committed to every conceit and twist that this increasingly treacherous tale has to offer. Though lesser known, none of the other actors are clocking out early, either.
In terms of mood and tone, the cinematography of Diabolically Yours is diabolically nothing. Any notion of a perhaps dark thriller ambience is simply chucked in favor of what could be best described as televisual floodlighting common in the era. Do not come here hoping for subtlety. Any kind of flourish involving light and shadow would’ve been most welcome, and may have elevated this film beyond its three-star-at-best-ranking. But this is Julien Duvivier, one of the supposedly bland, stock, stale directors whom the originators of the French New Wave were lashing out at in their own deliberately bold and fresh work. Diabolically Yours shouldn’t be called stale, though “bland” and “stock” are true to varying degrees; most true in the utter lack of finessed visual aesthetic.
Unless one is a completist collector of one of the primary talents involved in this film, it’s hard to recommend Diabolically Yours as a purchase. That said, the audio commentary track by film historians Howard S. Berger (any relation to Senta?) and Nathaniel Thompson does a great deal to elevate the overall package. These guys have certainly done their homework, as evidenced in their easy-flowing knowledge of director Duvivier’s sometimes-lousy reputation within the French Cinema scene. Their articulate astuteness does a great deal in terms of contextualizing this film, and why it is the way it is. The fact that they don’t go out of their way to gush over this movie is also appreciated. They certainly enjoy it, as most Kino Lorber commentators are want to do. The difference is that Berger and Thompson seem to understand that they don’t need to sell us on the movie. As always, spending time with them is a productive pleasure.
One’s overall appreciation of Diabolically Yours most likely comes down to just how permissive and forgiving one tends to be of this kind of disposable Saturday afternoon fare. You’ll enjoy it, even as you forget it. Which simply means that this film lends itself to repeated rediscovery and enjoyment. And now, thanks to this terrifically presented Blu-ray from Kino Lorber studio classics, Diabolically Yours can in fact be not-so-diabolically yours.