Mélancolie ‘Mellie’ Mau (Marlí¨ne Jobert) looks every inch the swinging 60s chick, a gamine with boyish red hair in a killer white plastic number and matching go-go boots. But it’s raining in the pretty French coastal town she swings around, her mother is a bitter lush and her husband is an unbearable sexist prick. Both are absent when a creepy stranger only she has seen breaks into her house and rapes her. She rather enterprisingly kills the bastard, but cannot face dealing with the police and elects to dump the body and hide the crime. It seems to be working until the mysterious Harry Dobbs (Charles Bronson) turns up at a wedding, and everywhere she goes thereafter, mocking, flirtatious and menacing by turns, full of questions, but not a cop. Slowly, everything Mellie knows about her life seems to be called into question. The stakes of this cat and mouse game are unclear…
For much of its length, Rider on the Rain is a two-handed play well handled by the leads. Jobert is great, sexy, vulnerable and defiant; we may worry for the seemingly friendless Mellie, but she is never a victim. It’s a tough trick to pull off, and I wish I was more familiar with the rest of her CV - it’s a damn shame if she wasn’t given the scope to be this good again. Bronson’s turn saddens for different reasons. He briefly holds a gun in Rider on the Rain, but, to many viewers’ doubtless confusion, fails to use it to blow away a gang of curiously multiracial street scum. It’s kind of heartbreaking to see him in this, giving the kind of playful, solid macho performance Hollywood leads used to deliver. His classic 60s roles behind him, a sea of right-wing horseshit ahead, and here he is being charming, graceful and strange. He’s not De Niro, but it’s a performance, goddamnit, and suggests that he was a lot better than Death Wish 14.
René Clément’s film comes from 1970, near the tail end of a lost age of Euro-cinema, the films that used to pepper the TV schedules in the 70s and 80s and then slowly disappeared: not art-house, they would be described as stylish in the listings, boasting chic clothes, swish locations and sharp camerawork. And it’s pretty damn fine, too, conjuring a dreamy, off-kilter atmosphere (it starts with a quote from Alice in Wonderland) in which we can’t quite be sure who’s up to what, or whether they are quite real at all. Clément at least plays with the idea that some or all of this may be in Mélancolie’s head, with odd flashbacks, recurring visual motifs and artful framing. It nods to Hitchcock (not subtly, a character is named Mac Guffin,) and satisfies as a conventional thriller, but is more open and ambiguous than Hitch would allow. No car chases, kung fu or exploding helicopters here - the best moments are created by actors being filmed with cameras by someone who knows what they are doing. Sweet.