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René Clément Ride on the Rain

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Clement Plays More Games in Bizarre Rider on the Rain (1970) | Blu-ray Review

Clement Plays More Games in Bizarre Rider on the Rain (1970) | Blu-ray Review

For a bizarre psychosexual early-70s oddity ripe for rediscovery, look no further than Renè Clément’s 1970 title Rider on the Rain, adapted from a novel by underrated genre writer Sebastian Japrisot and headlined by Charles Bronson and Marlène Jobert in an unexpectedly twisted game of Hitchcockian cat and mouse. Purportedly, the film inspired Jim Morrison to write “Riders on the Storm,” (although this remains unsubstantiated) and the title nabbed a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

The narrative opens with a Lewis Carroll quote before introducing us to Mellie (Jobert), whose real name is Melancolie and lives in the South of France with her Italian husband (Gabriele Tinti), an overbearing pilot often away from home. She notices a sinister man watching her in town one day, commenting he looks like he’s ridden into town on the rain. The same evening, the man accosts Mellie in her home and rapes her. When she discovers he has hidden in her basement instead of leaving, Mellie blasts him with a shotgun and dumps his body in the ocean. The next day at a wedding, she is introduced to the charming Mr. Dobbs (Bronson), an American colonel who is convinced Mellie murdered the man he is looking for, a German who has escaped from an institution along with a large amount of American cash. Mellie denies such a claim, but a body suddenly washes up on shore and Mr. Dobbs persists in trying to get her to confess so he can find the money the dead man was carrying with him.

Clement clearly wishes to position the film as an adult interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, with a young, naïve woman plunged into a rabbit hole of continually changing circumstances and thorny logistics (in similarly playful mode, the rapist’s character named turns out to be Mac Guffyn). Bronson had already starred in a Japrisot adaptation opposite Alain Delon in 1969’s Farewell Friend, though in hindsight, the actor still feels somewhat like a novelty in Euro productions (he learned his lines phonetically for the film while later Euro projects would find him dubbed).

Japrisot is perhaps best remembered for his The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, which was Anatole Litvak’s final film in 1970 (and was recently remade in 2015 by Joann Sfar, lensed by Manuel Dacosse) or the novel upon which Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement (2004) was based. However, Rider is also similar in tone to another Japrisot inspiration, Jean Becker’s unsung masterpiece One Deadly Summer, which plays like a sun-dappled sister to this film. Renè Clement, who won the Golden Lion for his famed Forbidden Games (1952), turned to darker (or at least weirder) noir elements following 1960’s Patricia Highsmith adaptation Purple Noon (1960) and turned out several obscure oddities, including the Alain Delon/Jane Fonda film Joy House (after Rider, Clement got a little loopy—see the inscrutable psychological thriller The Deadly Trap with Faye Dunaway and Frank Langella which directly precedes this). The film belongs to the golden era of Marlène Jobert (mother of Eva Green), betwixt working with Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Maurice Pialat. She’s framed as a girlish waif, underestimated by others despite her resiliency and cunning (if you close your eyes, she sounds a bit like Vanessa Paradis).

The film’s set-up precedes something like Verhoeven’s Elle (2016) in which a woman turns the tables on the rapist stalking her. But the film’s narrative twists recall the complexities of Hitchcock, its male and female protagonist interacting in unpredictable fashion. However, the film’s tonal strangeness pushes Rider on the Rain into surreal territories which gives an odd rather than thrilling flavor. Bronson seems especially refreshing as an American colonel toying with Jobert’s abused housewife, a woman he eventually becomes protective of (which includes a rather misogynistic sequence wherein Bronson manhandles Corinne Marchand, of Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, whose sinister connections to a past murder have led Jobert into her lair). Of course, where one finds Bronson one can also expect to see Jill Ireland pop-up, here playing a shop girl sleeping with Jobert husband (Gabriele Tinti as an Italian caricature).

Disc Review:

Kino Lorber presents Rider on the Rain as part of its Studio Classics label with a special edition transfer featuring both the 114-minute US cut and the 118-minute French cut (in 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 respectively). Picture and sound quality are well-attenuated in this new transfer of the title, and includes an audio commentary track from film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.

Film Rating: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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