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Death Watch (4 stars)

Well-deserved re-issue of Bertrand Tavernier's prescient Glasgow-set sci-fi thriller

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Death Watch

Its plot is a credibility stretch even in these days of de rigueur media paranoia, and its relentlessly murky, moody tone might raise the odd giggle, but Tavernier’s long-neglected sci-fi curiosity is compelling nonetheless. Romy Schneider plays novelist Katherine, whose terminal illness makes her a curiosity to a society that has largely eliminated disease. Katherine befriends the lively and challenging Roddy, played by Harvey Keitel, and a touch of romance looks set to brighten her decline – unless you know, as we do, that Roddy works for a TV company that has its own sinister motives for getting close to Katherine.

The plot takes such prescient jabs at exploitative media practices and the destruction of privacy that it’s amazing the film hasn’t yet been ineptly remade in Hollywood; we must be thankful that this re-release has come along instead, especially since Death Watch was for many years all but impossible to see. Schneider’s sad performance is shaded sadder still by the fact that it would be one of her last before her death two years later, but it’s a memorable one, which helps to anchor the film’s rather preposterous plot in a persuasive emotional reality. Her supporting cast includes not only Keitel but also Max Von Sydow and Harry Dean Stanton – plus, if you make sure not to blink and miss him, a very young Robbie Coltrane. This early appearance points to a large part of the appeal of the film, especially for Scottish audiences: its unusual use of Glasgow as a setting, long before the city was regarded as a cultural hotspot. Tavernier thought it looked post-apocalyptic, and sought out its most forbidding and desolate vistas; locals are nonetheless likely to enjoy spotting familiar places through the debris, and catching the odd scrap of unofficial dialogue from Glaswegian bystanders.

Selected release from Fri 1 Jun.

Death Watch (La mort en direct)

  • 4 stars
  • 1980
  • 15
  • Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
  • Written by: Bertrand Tavernier, David Rayfiel
  • Cast: Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton, Max von Sydow

Katherine (Schneider) is a novelist living in Glasgow who's been diagnosed with a terminal disease; Roddy (Keitel) befriends her, but unknown to her he works for a TV company with its own agenda. The basic idea is amazingly prescient but the plot is rather preposterous; Schneider's moving performance anchors it in…

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Death Watch - Romy Schneider & Harvey Keitel

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