Death Watch (1980)

aka La mort en direct
Article 3370 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2010
Posting Date: 11-5-2010
Directed by Bernard Tavernier
Featuring Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton
Country: France / West Germany / UK
What it is: Science fiction drama

A television cameraman has a camera installed in his brain and eyes. He has been hired by the makers of a reality TV show to follow and record the final months of life of a woman who is dying of terminal disease.

Given the way “Reality TV” has taken over the television airwaves (although I should point out that I consider much of what passes for the form to be merely elaborate game shows of one sort or another), this movie remains quite relevant, and one can see the possibility of a show like this actually coming into being, though I suspect it would be more likely to attract exhibitionists as its subjects rather than those who, like the woman in the story, find their death to be a very private experience. The movie is a bit too long and things occasionally get vague and muddled, but the cast and performances are excellent, particularly from Romy Schneider as the dying woman and Harvey Keitel as the man with the camera in his eyes. Certain scenes stand out very strongly; my favorite involves a very long tracking shot in which the camera follows a limo driver (played by Robbie Coltrane) walking through a village marketplace looking for the dying woman who is making her escape, and then following the woman as she goes through the marketplace and makes her way to the dock. The movie also features good performances from Harry Dean Stanton and Max von Sydow (who doesn’t appear until the end of the movie). The movie explores the themes of greed, guilt and redemption, and the ending is powerful and moving as much for what it doesn’t show as for what it does. In the end, the movie is flawed but memorable, and well worth watching.

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