Thursday, February 4, 2010

Maria Schneider and Sydne Rome in Rene Clement's La Baby Sitter (1975)

La Baby Sitter, the final feature film from legendary French director Rene Clement, is a somewhat sluggish and occasionally compelling film from 1975 featuring two of the most memorable screen beauties of the seventies, Maria Schneider and Sydne Rome. Clement was way past his prime when he directed his clunky final feature at the age of 62 and it had been nearly ten years since his last truly successful feature, Paris is Burning, and fifteen years since his last bona-fide masterpiece, the startling Purple Noon. While La Baby Sitter is a marked improvement over the works leading up to it like Death Scream (1971) and Hope to Die (1972), it is indeed a far cry from the works that made Clement one of the most popular post-war French directors. Working from a convoluted script from the pen of prolific Italian screenwriter Nicola Badalucco, Clement fails to ever find a consistent tone with La Baby Sitter, a work that never really comes together despite the splendid turns given by both Schneider and Rome.

Iconic Maria Schneider was just a few years past her jaw-dropping turn opposite Marlon Brando in Bertolucci's astonishing Last Tango in Paris when she shot La Baby Sitter. She had just finished up her fascinating performance for Antonioni in The Passenger when Clement cast her as the lead in his film and she turns in a really solid performance for the aging director. Had personal problems not derailed her for a time in the late seventies and early eighties, the career of Maria Schneider might have really took off, as she remains one of the most distinctive, if often undervalued, talents of her time.

American born Sydne Rome is just as good as the disfigured actress who becomes embroiled in a strange kidnapping and ransom scheme. A prolific if often overlooked actress, the charming Rome was especially good in Polanski's comedic What (1971), and she delivers a surprisingly resonate dramatic turn for Clement in La Baby Sitter, although it is a shame that one of her best dramatic performance wasn't in a better film.

Despite the very solid work from his two leads, not to mention able support from everyone from Vic Morrow to Robert Vaughn to Renato Pozzetto, La Baby Sitter is ultimately a disappointing work that is only sporadically interesting. Whereas Clement's early triumpths were studied and deliberately paced, La Baby Sitter is draggy and downright boring at times. Clement's direction is frustratingly detached and La baby Sitter is lethargic when it should be suspenseful. At times Clement's final feature feels like it would fall completely apart if it weren't for his memorable cast and the lovely and disquieting score composed for him by the tremendous Francis Lai.

Clement's flawed and flat direction of La Baby Sitter is helped immeasurably by the talents of Italian cinematography Alberto Spagnoli, whose work photography the film makes it feel much more distinguished than it actually is. The Italian born cinematographer, who began his career as Antonioni's assistant director on Red Desert, is probably best remembered for his work on such memorable Italian thrillers such as The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times and Mario Bava's Shock. The talented globetrotting Spagnoli wasn't limited to just thrillers though as his lovely work on Peter Bogdanovich's Daisy Miller in 1974 shows so clearly.

La Baby Sitter is one of those distinctly European co-productions that only the seventies produced. Despite the partial American cast, French star and director, it finally feels more Italian than anything else, although it can't hold a candle to the many Giallo and Poliziotteschi films that were coming out of Italy at the time. Rene Clement's final film is ultimately just an obscure curiosity, more than anything else, worthy of a look if mostly to serve a reminder to how undervalued Maria Schneider was in the seventies.

Clement's final little flawed thriller has been available all over the world in numerous versions including a VHS version in the eighties under the title Raw Edge. Currently out in numerous grey market and public domain sets, I am not aware of a decent and official remastered DVD but if anyone knows of one I would be curious to hear about it.


Anonymous said...

I really love Maria.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Tess...I do too. She's really undervalued and films like LAST TANGO and THE PASSENGER certainly wouldn't be the same without her.