Sinister Pact (1951), by Alfred Hitchcock.  Based on the novel Strangers on a Train, published in 1950.

Patricia Highsmith She was one of the most interesting writers in American literature of the second half of the 20th century. Although her popularity was tied to the creation of the character of Tom Ripley, an exquisite and Machiavellian impostor who based her triumph on the fascinating detachment of her character and her chameleon-like rise in the most secluded social circles, the work of this writer covered numerous topics : from some essays on the literary technique of suspense, to the exploration of the criminal drive in the most ordinary men, to the conception of the mind in love as the map of a perfect crime.

Highsmith’s style was nourished by her amazing power of observation but also by the gestation of a witty and powerful narrative, entrenched in a distant point of view. The narrator looks at his character from a distance, penetrates his wishes, but always reserves for himself an unrestricted quota of mystery. In case of Swella novel that gave rise to the new film by Adrian Lyne, Deep water (Amazon Prime Video), is exemplary in the transparency of its ideology. An ordinary man like Victor van Allen rehearses crime as a game, a prank to keep the impudent lovers of his wife Melinda away from him. But… what if that wish came true? We can all be murderers if the circumstances are favourable, Highsmith seems to be saying with that air of curious misanthropy.

His novels have been perfect for the cinema, from the inaugural strangers on a trainacquired by Alfred Hitchcock when Highsmith was still an unknown, until carol by Todd Haynes, that intrigue of love and secrecy. Several of his stories have been betrayed and reinvented, giving rise to amusing exercises in style and remarkable masterpieces. In her lifetime, she was never satisfied with the results. Now we can give our own verdict.

Sinister Pact (1951), by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the novel Strangers on a Train, published in 1950.

sinister pact (Strangers on a Train, Alfred Hitchcock, 1951) Raymond Chandler’s latest script in Hollywood was a series of disappointments for the famous creator of the literary detective Philip Marlowe. Although his experience in the adaptation of Blood pact by James M. Cain had not been satisfactory and the collaboration with Billy Wilder had led to mutual contempt and relapse into alcoholism for the writer, the meeting with Alfred Hitchcock was not going to be much better. The challenge was to adapt the first novel by a young Texan writer that had been published a few months earlier and aroused so much interest in the British director that he convinced Warners to buy the rights at a discount price. In fact, Highsmith always complained about having sold strangers on a train for coins. The story of the exchange of crimes and the transfer of guilt, clearly Catholic, was perfect for the Hitchcockian universe, but the first version of the script of sinister pact did not leave according to the director. After ditching Chandler and entrusting the correction to Ben Hecht’s regular collaborator Czenzi Ormonde, she made several adjustments to the final act and the distribution of blame and punishment. Of course, Highsmith was deeply disappointed: she accused Hitchcock of simplifying the story and betraying its ending. The truth is sinister pact It was the beginning of the golden age of English art in Hollywood, with memorable scenes like the murder in the amusement park and the merry-go-round runaway at the end. Furthermore, he showed that Hitchcock always believed, like Highsmith, that the best stories are the ones with the best villains. Available on HBO Max and Apple TV.

In full sun (1960), by René Clément.  Based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, published in 1955.
In full sun (1960), by René Clément. Based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, published in 1955.

Full sun (A plein soleil, Rene Clement, 1960) It was the first adaptation of the inaugural novel in the saga about Tom Ripley, which years later had a more faithful (and not for that reason better) rematch in the Anthony Minghella film, The talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Although Highsmith was disappointed by the change of the ending and the moral sanction to the character in Clément’s film, the great contribution of this version was to give the best face to that sophisticated and irresistible con man: that of Alain Delon. At the height of his beauty and on his way to fame, before his excursions into Viscontian melodrama with Rocco and his brothers and the gatopardo, Delon was the exquisite and seductive assassin imagined by Highsmith, a face of Adonis imperturbable and ruthless, as elusive and lethal as in the best passages of literary creation. At the beginning of the story, Ripley is a shy young man looking for his friend Philippe Greenleaf on the Italian Mediterranean island Ischia. Greenleaf is none other than Maurice Ronet, with his carefree demeanor of a spoiled heir, dedicated to waste and love affairs, owner and lord of that Europe of the economic miracle. Ripley’s gaze not only crystallizes a corrosive envy but also a forbidden desire for the time, a metaphor for that ambiguity that defined Highsmith’s literature in the attack on all the taboos of his time. With a garish color palette and euphoric use of exteriors, Clément turned his impostor into the erotic myth of the moment. Available on Apple TV.

Ripley's Game (2002), by Liliana Cavani.  Based on the novel Ripley's Game (also edited as The American Friend), published in 1974.
Ripley’s Game (2002), by Liliana Cavani. Based on the novel Ripley’s Game (also edited as The American Friend), published in 1974.

ripley’s game (Ripley’s Game, Liliana Cavani, 2002). In 2002, Liliana Cavani directed a new version of the novel ripley’s game, the third of the saga and for many the most exquisite. The director of night porter decided to give his own version of that meeting between Ripley and Jonathan, a common and nondescript man forcibly turned into a murderer. Wim Wenders himself had made his own adaptation, transferring the action to the city of Hamburg, in the Germany of the years of lead, and turning Dennis Hopper’s Ripley into an extravagant cowboy, a compendium of the versatile cinephilia at the height of the New German cinema. The betrayals to the original were many but the american friend (1977) stands as one of the most vital exercises to come out of Highsmith’s cool pen. Cavani opts for another strategy: his Ripley, in the perfect skin of John Malkovich, is closer to the cynicism of the original writing, and the future of that encounter is nourished less by a fruitful and exultant collaboration than by a decadent, ambiguous and obsessive like Highsmith’s, rooted in the art market and the tragedy of illness. For this reason, Cavani’s film turns Ripley into a perfect puppeteer, whose behavior is as sinuous and lethal as that of the snake, and his mask has become flesh, good taste and savoir faire in a world of appearances and deceit. Cavani doesn’t miss the grotesqueness and provocation of his signature, but he takes on the Highsmith universe with true devotion. Available on Google Play.

Of love and money (2014), by Hossein Amini.  Based on the novel The Two Faces of January, published in 1961.
Of love and money (2014), by Hossein Amini. Based on the novel The Two Faces of January, published in 1961.

of love and money (Two Faces of January, Hossein Amini, 2014). Based on the novel The two faces of January, published in the mid-1960s, the feature debut by British-Iranian director Hossein Amini picks up the triangular structure born from a fortuitous encounter on the Acropolis in Athens. An American tourist couple, Chester McFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst), are wandering among the ruins when they spot a strange observer. The young tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac), stranded in the Greek capital several years ago, silently compares a photo of his dead father with the silhouette of the knight dressed in white. That seemingly occasional encounter is outlined with an overwhelming force that only Highsmith can conceive. As in almost all his stories, the characters are enigmas even to themselves, and the plot that entangles Chester and Colette with the third party is as thick as those Mediterranean interiors, bathed in midday light and the irresistible temptation of crime. . Amini’s own adaptation, which took four years to complete, focuses on the details: the growing anxiety and fear in Chester’s gestures, the latent desire in Rydal’s eyes, the doubts in Colette’s convictions. The apparent tranquility of the couple is not only besieged by a private investigator who follows Chester’s trail of scams, but also by that innocent interference that Rydal rehearses, dual figure par excellence, delegate of his ghosts, of that past contained in letters and Photographs. In that resistance to being what they seem, all the characters hide their dense darkness under the most affable and harmless masks. Without too many pretensions, Amini hits the nail on the head in the portrait of that promising Europe that keeps the most absurd cruelties up its sleeve. Available on Amazon Prime Video, Movistar Play and Paramount +.

Carol (2015), by Todd Haynes.  Based on the novel The Price of Salt (also edited as Carol), published in 1952.
Carol (2015), by Todd Haynes. Based on the novel The Price of Salt (also edited as Carol), published in 1952.

carol (Todd Hayes, 2015). Posted as the price of salt and under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, carol It was Patricia Highsmith’s most personal novel, nourished by her lesbian experiences but also by the audacity of her own literature, which was not yet pigeonholed into suspense. In fact, the publisher’s rejection of her, beyond the taboo she addressed, was justified by the need to focus her writing on a genre and thus gain readership and popularity. Written by Phyllis Nagy, a late disciple of the writer, and newly financed when Cate Blanchett added her name to the project, the script came into the hands of Todd Haynes due to the conviction of producers Christine Vachon and Elizabeth Karlsen. Emblem director of the New Queer Cinema of the 90s, Haynes filmed carol as the perfect representation of the world of Highsmith, tinged with secrecy and shyness, wrapped in the influence of brief encounter by David Lean and Saul Leiter’s photography in the early 50s, with the abyss of love turned into an unexpected road movie. The point of view, as in all the work of the writer, is tinged with a faint opacity, a disturbing uncertainty. Here the criminal mind gives way to the mind in love, but its operation is not very different. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots Carol (Blanchett) in the gift shop where she works during the days leading up to Christmas. From there not only arises a subterranean amorous passion but also an infinity of questions about identity and desire, commitment and sexuality. Haynes abandons the furious colors of her Sirkian melodramas to construct a world of mirrors and dualities, gazes that assume the position of the camera, faces that display her intermittent reflection. Many years after the manuscript production of it in that pre-success time and its hibernation for decades in the silence of prohibition, carol he took on the splendor of his images, of that statement Highsmith refused to keep in a drawer. Available on Mubi, Apple TV and Google Play.

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