Charles, Dead or Alive (1969)

Not Rated   |    |  Drama

Charles, Dead or Alive (1969) Poster

On the 100th anniversary of the founding of a watchmaking company in Geneva, Charles Dé the founder's 50-year-old grandson has had it: he speaks eccentrically to a reporter, recognizing his... See full summary »


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Alain Tanner


Alain Tanner (scenario)


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4 November 2020 | federovsky
More dead than alive
A small-scale industrialist decides he's had enough, for no clearly elucidated reason, and does a runner. He discards his glasses, adopts a false name and lands first in a seedy hotel where he lies morosely in bed all day. Up to this point--apart from a dull television interview (did the French really take that kind of thing seriously?)--the film was intriguing enough, but once Mr Dé hooks up with a funky Bohmenian couple there is little further development. And thanks to the overbearing character played by Marcel Robert--some kind of gentle giant--the film becomes an irksome labour to watch, like a morose 'Jules et Jim'. The film would have been better off without the Bohemians altogether, and, we cannot but help suppose, so would Mr Dé.

The action is mainly static and bereft of interesting images or cinematic movement. People sit around or stand around lamenting about nothing in particular in mournful tones and spouting philosophical epigrams with a degree of pretentiousness that only the French don't realise is pretentious. The film is almost entirely composed of these conversations. Some scenes only serve to disengage, with odd behaviour (running up a gravel mound), blatant symbolism (pushing a car off a cliff), much awkward, self-conscious acting as if the actors were embarrassed to be bogged down in all the forced meaning, and terrible directing, such as when Mr Dé is sitting at a table in a cafe absurdly squeezed up to two other people who don't even look at him when he starts an unpleasant drunken tirade.

This is the fag end of the leftist utopia that went up in flames the previous year. Yes, we get the loss of identity and sense of despair, but was there no other treatment than this? In 'The Bedsitting Room', Spike Milligan also dealt with the last flickering of the human spirit in a wrecked world, but that was a work of surreal genius. This humourless and tendentious allegory of lost hope is hard going and only fans of wintry atmosphere will find it worthwhile.

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Release Date:

15 January 1970



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