Death Watch (1980)

BERTRAND TAVERNIER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

Original Title: La Mort En Direct

/, 1980. , , , , , , . Screenplay by , , , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .  

Despite having made movies about a serial killer and a woman’s near nervous breakdown, Bertrand Tavernier gave those a light, if intellectually dense treatment compared with the dark and somber tone taken by this dystopian science-fiction story. It’s a great opportunity to see in a lead role towards the end of her short life, a luminous star turn in which she plays a woman who has just been informed that she is dying of a terminal illness. In the future that this story takes place in, most people no longer die of disease, meaning that the few who do are subjected to scrutiny and curiosity by the public who love watching them on the top-rated Death Watch program. She is asked to participate in the reality show and allow herself to be filmed dying and she agrees, receiving payment to give her family before running away in the hopes of avoiding fulfilling her end. She wanders a barren industrial landscape trying to remain anonymous, joined on her travels by Harvey Keitel who she doesn’t know works for the Death Watch show and has a camera implanted in his eye that allows him to broadcast her against her wishes. The allegory is not hard to figure out, and the popularity of reality television that would not happen for a few decades probably makes this one feel prescient, but Tavernier finds himself stuck for what to actually do with the setup and the characters. The latter half becomes very drawn out as the situations become less interesting and lack much conflict; a scene with Max von Sydow late in the film provides information and intellectual exchange but not much in the way of drama. The cynicism of the concluding revelation is perfectly on point but not explosive enough to justify sitting through this.

Toronto International Film Festival:  1980

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