Aspern Papers: Relief for Headache

 DATELINE: Henry James Tale of Scandal

Untitled 3 Not his Doppleganger!

French director Julien Landais brings his rococo style to the proceedings of the Henry James tale with his usual interest in Dopplegangers (Jonathan Rhys Meyers has the same blue eyes as Alain-Fabien Delon and the director himself). He seems obsessed with his own stunning looks.

The sly novella by the master of manners and psychology, Henry James, is well-played out in The Aspern Papers. As Morton Vint, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is suitably shady as a snooping researcher. He is anachronistic in posture and demeanor (going hatless and with bohemian friends of the 1880s in Venice). He seems to hang around with a bunch of lesbians (shades of the Bostonians).

He wants the love letters of an aging woman and will stop at nothing to put his hands on them. There is no kill-fee here, and he is the progenitor of National Enquirer dirty deeds even back in the 19th century.

Yes, this is a literary film in the Ivory-Merchant mode. Indeed, James Ivory is executive producer—and all the old style is brought back with a cutting edge of nastiness for the 21st century with a young French director in charge.

When the poseur learns that all the papers are hidden by Juliana, one-time lover of Jeffrey Aspern (likely Percy Shelley based on details), he is moved to become ruthless in putting his grubby hands on them.

There is a dark secret here, often hinted broadly in flashbacks that Aspern was bisexual—with a Byronic friend—and Juliana.

All this adds to the charades played by each of the characters.

Joely Richardson (Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter) plays her dull, spinster niece here with no pretense of acting out the role of her aunt every night—as the earlier version with Susan Hayward showed. The old lady was likely Mary Shelley’s sister, Claire Claremont, who had “everything” when it comes to memorabilia of dead poets.

You may recognize strands of Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde before it blows into a full-force cliché to end the movie. It is effective, nevertheless. Here too the ring of Jeffrey Aspern, as in the earlier version, plays an intriguing role as the spinster niece puts a deal to the devil publisher if he wants the literary treasure.

Landais gives us a stunner for his full-length first effort, providing us with a controlled tour-de-force that makes us anticipate his next film. Brilliant, complex work.

Déjà vu All Over Again for Alain Delon

DATELINE: Movies Come Alive

Featured image

That apple has not fallen far from the tree.

We loved Alain Delon in Purple Noon. Now we have the surprising treat of going back in a time machine and watching Delon start his career all over again.

Yes, it is possible when the aging Lothario of legend has a son who is now twenty-one years of age—and beginning his movie career. Alain-Fabien Delon is a Doppleganger of his father. And, curiously enough, that is the name of a short film that has stars in for director Julien Landais.

The film has all the pretentions needed to launch a male Helen of Troy.

With its baroque music and set in a hall with gilded ceilings, the younger Delon seems as home as his father amid great beauty in objets d’art.

Director Landais seems to be evoking any number of past French films from the glory days of cinema. This little two-minute drill seems to resemble Last Year at Marienbad with its hero traipsing the halls of grandeur.

Of course, the success of the short is completely dependent on the utter fascination with seeing Alain Delon again, youthful and stunning. You cannot see enough of the newcomer, and the director keeps him in tantalizing quick closeups that whet your recognition of the father.

The younger Delon speaks English, which took his father a while longer to make his American film debut. The son will take a step or two up on his father’s career by starting in English at the top of the game.

He has appeared in several supporting roles in the past few years, but Mr. DeMille can tell you he is ready for his big closeup.

Keep your eyes on Alain-Fabien Delon.