It seems shameful that French director Bertrand Tavernier's intriguing 1980s masterpiece, Death Watch, his first English-language movie, should have had to wait till now for the digital restoration it so richly deserves. Although catalogued as science-fiction, it's neither the usual zap-'em-up thriller nor a special effects extravanganza. It's a sensitive art-house movie, a neo-noir large in its social implications, and powerful in its exploration of landscape and complex human interaction.
Taken from D G Compton's uncomfortably prescient novel The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, and set in the world of reality TV - back in 1980 still in its infancy - Tavernier's film presents a biting comment on our society's sad obsession with suffering, emotional manipulation and greed. Shot in Scotland, entirely on location in and around Glasgow, the story's sole SF-type device is a surgically implanted micro-camera that directly taps into a TV reporter's optic nerve, thus enabling him to film his subjects completely encumbrance-free.
Thus equipped, the young reporter, played by Harvey Keitel, sets out to follow and secretly record the last days of a beautiful, terminally ill woman for his TV producer's nightly reality show. Harry Dean Stanton plays the producer, Romy Schneider the dying woman, Max von Sydow her ex-husband, and there's a very young Robbie Coltrane as their limo driver.
Despite its potentially morbid premise, this is a heartfelt, life-affirming movie. It's often funny too. At his best as a director of actors, Tavernier here uses Keitel's and Schneider's very different studio backgrounds to give us two finely nuanced performances, bringing a touching honesty to their characters' bizarre relationship. And as a final bonus, the wide-screen cinematography of his cameraman, Pierre-William Glenn, is a constant delight.
British by birth, The writer D G Compton has since the 1970s had strong Maine connections through his American wife and family, first as a summer visitor with a cottage on Long Island and then, on retirement from the London publishing world in 1997. as a resident in the Brunswick area. A widower now, he lives in Bowdoinham.
'A superb figment of imagination' - San Francisco Chronicle
'A major film in every way at once intimate and epic' - L A Times
''Like all the best works of science fiction a biting satire on our times set in a near future when artistic creativity is firmly in technology's silicone grip' - Cine Vue
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