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  Charles, Dead or Alive Everybody Needs A Little Time Away
Year: 1969
Director: Alain Tanner
Stars: Francois Simon, Marie-Claire Dufour, Marcel Robert, Andre Schmidt, Maya Simon, Jo Excoffier, Walter Schochli, Jean-Pierre Moriaud, Michele Martel, Francis Ruesser, Martine Simon, Janine Christoffe, Jean-Luc Bideau, Pierre Verdan, Antoine Bordier
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Charles De (Francois Simon) should be delighted, by all rights, for the company founded by his grandfather a hundred years ago that became a family business and success story is being celebrated in the media, and television cameras have been invited round to the offices to capture some of the festivities. But when it comes for Charles to expound on the watchmaking firm, he finds his heart isn't in it and he makes his excuses, realising that this must be his midlife crisis now he is fifty and has achieved all he wants to in life, therefore has no more mountains to climb. So what can he possibly do to soothe this newfound void in his soul? He invites the camera crew over later so he can give a proper interview to explain his thorough unease...

Charles does more than that in a film that was originally called Charles, mort ou vif, but might just as easily been called Charles, Sane or Insane? It was left up to the audience to draw that conclusion, for the film ended at the point where we had been given all the information we needed to form an opinion, but the central idea of rejecting mainstream society was one that would prove very attractive to director Alain Tanner through his career. After all, he was Swiss, and if ever there was a conservative community it was Switzerland with its strict rules and care with finances, precisely what Charles decides he has had enough of. But was there a counterculture in that country? Tanner seemed to find one, though he may have been inventing it for the purposes of his themes.

Basically, Charles, or Carlo as he comes to be named under an alias, flees his tightly restricted existence (though he does loosely keep in touch with his hippy daughter, as if she has influenced his choices as his father and grandfather did in the first half of his existence) and initially takes up residence in a hotel in the city. Here he indulges in self-examination, a tenet of the hippies and upcoming decade of the seventies, though he doesn't do so by getting high, he prefers to zone out in bed and see what thoughts occur to him that he will find intellectually stimulating. When that doesn't quite bring about the epiphany he was hoping for, the attraction of alcohol begins to beckon, which will bring him nothing but oblivion blocking out those troublesome responsibilities, but when out and about he does bump into a couple in a bar who he instantly likes and gets along with.

They are bearded, bearlike Paul (Marcel Robert) and bright, sympathetic Adeline (Marie-Claire Dufour), and if they have not dropped out, they are hanging by their fingers to Swiss society. They offer Charles a room to stay that he accepts, which is where the light humour of the premise gives way to a more intellectual tone, signified by Paul pushing his car into a quarry after Charles makes up some observation about the cultural tyranny of the motor car, thus the notion of putting ideology into actions is given a concrete image rather than staying in the mind, albeit in a metaphorical fashion. There was a lot of that kind of thing in the second half of the film, as our hero's mental faculties are increasingly called into question, leaving us pondering whether his act of rebellion, any radical act of rebellion, was a blow against the status quo or a selfish act of madness that fed into the ego rather than the wider world. If that sounds dry, well, maybe it could be, but there was playful melancholy to Tanner's first fiction feature that made it fairly engaging. Avant garde music by Jacques Olivier.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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