20 September 2011 | Bunuel1976
FLESH OF THE ORCHID (Patrice Chereau, 1975) **1/2
This French thriller – which earned 2 Cesar nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Production Design – was based on a James Hedley Chase novel that was a sequel to his book that previously spawned two notable films: the bizarre British gangster flick NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1948) and Robert Aldrich's full-blooded THE GRISSOM GANG (1971). It is the third adaptation of the pulp writer's work to emanate from this country that I have watched, after CRIME ON A SUMMER MORNING (1966) and THE BLONDE FROM PEKING (1967); I also own an earlier example – Julien Duvivier's CHAIR DE POULE aka HIGHWAY PICK UP (1963) – but which is still unwatched. For the record, another foreign director who adapted a Chase novel for the screen is Volker Schlondorff's PALMETTO (1998) with which I am familiar and I also have the novel itself. Typical of the neo-noir revival of era, the film is permeated by an unpleasant aura that is reflected in the rain-soaked countryside atmosphere and the muddled fatalistic storyline.
For being a directorial debut, the star-studded international cast that has been roped in is quite impressive: Charlotte Rampling plays a mentally unstable heiress with a penchant for blinding her assailants with a knife (right from the very opening sequence); Bruno Cremer as her unlikely and doomed lover who happens to pick her up following a traffic accident; Edwidge Feuillere as Rampling's greedy aunt forever surrounded by an entourage of people doing her bidding, including familiar bespectacled character actor Gunter Meisner and her unhealthily attached son (who eventually betrays them and commits suicide); Simone Signoret as a former circus star; Alida Valli in a one-scene appearance as a mental patient who 'recognizes' a kindred spirit in Rampling at a railway station; Hans Christian Blech plays one of two siblings – formerly a knife-throwing-circus-act-turned-hit men – who chase the pair of lovers; Eve Francis as Cremer's mother. I had previously watched the vigorous epic QUEEN MARGOT (1994) from this director and have THOSE WHO LOVED ME CAN TAKE THE TRAIN (1998) unwatched on VHS; besides, Rampling and Cremer would be reunited 25 years later in Francois Ozon's emotional drama UNDER THE SAND.