(La Mort en Direct)
The film concerns itself with television and media sensationalism and eventually becomes a haunting meditation on the voyeurism of the medium. It is an all-too-rare example of screen science-fiction as introspective drama rather intergalactic action adventure. There are great images in the film that Tavernier derives from character affect rather than hardware like the moment where Harvey Keitel damages his camera eyes and goes blind and Romy Schneider realises the truth of the situation, or her haunting death scenes. Tavernier crafts some beautifully poetic character touches Romy Schneider and her striking little fairy-tales, Harvey Keitel who can only see beauty in the things he has photographed, and an appropriately gracious Max Von Sydow sitting in cultured comfort in his garden retreat.
At other times though, Deathwatch remains frustratingly mundane, dogged as it is simply by its Frenchness. In French cinema, there exists an annoying pseudo-intellectualism, of characters as philosophical mouthpieces, a love of junk culture trivia and of casual inconsequential character colloquy and Tavernier is as guilty as any of his countrymen. The initial zing of the story peters out amid much in the way of rambling mundanities in the latter half. One sneakingly suspects that had the film had an English-language director much of this would have trimmed and tightened for the better.
The film was shot in Glasgow. The photography has been deliberately washed-out with the intent of achieving the drabbest colour toning possible and nothing has been done to identify the surroundings as anything other contemporary. It is an interesting example of minimalist science-fiction. Indeed, the themes the film raises are ones that have only become more potent since it was released. Many of the films ideas were later borrowed by The Truman Show (1998).