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With THE AMERICAN FRIEND screening across Picturehouse cinemas on Sunday 9th October as part of the Patricia Highsmith season, Discover Now looks back at this classic movie from legendary film-maker Wim Wenders and the literary appearances of the iconic fictional character, Tom Ripley.

 

THE AMERICAN FRIEND

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Official Selection, In Competition - Cannes Film Festival 1977

Winner, Best Direction & Editing - German Film Awards 1978

About the Film:

Superbly shot by Robbie Müller, Wim Wenders draws on his love of American cinema and pays homage to the B-movie and Film Noir tradition. The result is one of his finest films.

"On this film, our model wasn't a photographer but the painter Edward Hopper. But more important was my desire to work with a book by Patricia Highsmith."

Wim Wenders

The Story:

Professional frame maker Jonathan (Bruno Ganz) has been diagnosed with a terminal blood disease. A chance encounter with the enigmatic Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) offers him a way to ensure a stable future for his family. But as Jonathan embarks on his new and dangerous role, Tom questions his motives for involving his new friend.

RIPLEY'S TALE by Ian Haydn Smith

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Tom Ripley is one of the most enigmatic figures from the last fifty years of crime fiction. Conceived as the central character of novelist Patricia Highsmith’s fourth novel, Ripley remained with the author for the rest of her life, both as a source of inspiration to her and as mercurial presence in her fiction.

He first appeared in 1955’s The Talented Mr Ripley, when Highsmith was thirty-four, as an impecunious young man who inveigles his way into Boston society, and a wealthy family who, believing him to be an old school friend of their spoiled son, set him the task of travelling to Europe with orders to bring back their prodigal heir. Instead, Ripley murders his quarry and forges a will that guarantees him a financially secure future; all carried out with seemingly little cost to his conscience.

Ripley then disappeared from Highsmith’s fiction for 15 years. His return, in Ripley Underground (1970), caught up with him eight years after his narrow escape at the end of the first book. Now married and living in Belle Ombre, an estate in the fictional village of Villeperce-sur-Seine. his domestic bliss is an idyllic veil obscuring his many nefarious activities. These include selling forged copies of a dead surrealist’s works through a London art gallery. However, when an expert questions the paintings’ authenticity and their forger experiences second thoughts about his role in the sham, Ripley’s survival instinct forces him to kill again.

Ripley’s Game (1974) is arguably the most morally complex adventure for Highsmith’s icy killer. Seeking revenge against a local British resident, Jonathan Trevanny, whom he believes slighted him at a party, Ripley deceives the picture framer into believing his illness is more serious than was originally diagnosed and presents him with a way to ensure his family’s security after his death: by accepting two contracts to kill mob associates. However, Ripley soon shows pangs of guilt for involving Trevanny and decides to help his new friend. When the identity of the contract killer reaches the mob, the two men are forced to go on the run, with fatal consequences.

Paternal instincts are to the fore in The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980). When an American teenager arrives in Villeperce-surSeine, it takes little time to identify him as Frank Pierson, the son of a recently deceased American tycoon. Confessing to patricide, Frank sought out Ripley because of his shady reputation. Ripley acquires a passport and takes the boy to Germany. Identifying with the boy’s predicament, a bond soon develops between the two. When Frank is kidnapped, Ripley ruthlessly pursues the kidnappers. But his concern for Frank’s welfare will do little to assuage the boy’s guilt over the crime he has committed.

Highsmith’s final Ripley novel, Ripley Under Water (1991), sees the cultured killer attempting to live a peaceful life with his wife, on their beautiful estate. However, a recently arrived American couple appear intent on investigating ghosts from the past. Aware that he is linked to the disappearance of an American art collector some years before, David and Janice Pritchard appear oblivious to their imperilment. Threatening to disturb his quiet existence, Ripley resolves to take action for the last time...

THE AMERICAN FRIEND screens at Picturehouse cinemas on Sunday 9th October as part of the Patricia Highsmith season for Vintage Sundays. The film is available on DVD through our online store as well as all good retailers. For VOD platforms please click here.

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