Deathwatch (Bertrand Tavernier / France-West Germany-United Kingdom, 1980):
(La Mort en Direct; Death Watch: Der gekaufte Tod)

Intriguing coincidences: Bertrand Tavernier's first English-language film is, like Truffaut's, a harsh satire of television, furthermore filmed in the year of Brooks' Real Life. The metaphor (eye-am-a-camera) is drawn candidly as recorders are installed in the retina of Harvey Keitel, an insomniac working for a TV network somewhere in the future. "I daydream," he says when asked how he spends his nights; he steps out of the hospital and takes in Glasgow as if for the first time, Tavernier's camera does the same. The title refers to a new show, "the ultimate adventure" in commoditized voyeurism, the vérité shooting of death -- the subject, Romy Schneider, is told she's fatally ill, though she's wise to the network's game (where "everything is of interest, but nothing matters") and runs off, Keitel with the ocular monitors befriends her, providing footage for a smash hit. If Tavernier has withering things to say about the media ("the messengers, the runners" of the elite, it is pointed out), he scarcely lets himself off the hook: Despite virtuoso technical bits like the extended tracking shot through the gypsy market, this is, as Keitel learns, an account of the danger of forgoing humanity for the sake of a well-staged shot. Judicious use of handheld POV distinguishes the tragic tale of corrupted vision, acerbic ("Sea funerals: Be buried the Poseidon way," a sign reads) and utterly prophetic -- the X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes poster is featured prominently in producer Harry Dean Stanton's office as Schneider accepts her contract, The Truman Show, Minority Report, Children of Men and the reality-TV boom followed. Max von Sydow is graciously at hand for the concluding note of rue, a system of businesslike vampirism in which the heroine's freedom is reduced to being able to "leave this life on my own." With Thérèse Liotard, William Russell, Vadim Glowna, Bernhard Wicki, Eva Maria Meineke, and Robbie Coltrane.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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