Canada, near to Montreal. Tony (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is on the run and hides out in a farmhouse occupied by a gang of criminals led by Charley (Robert Ryan). At first they are suspicious of him, handcuffing him, forcing him to sleep in a cot and to play various mind games – including being seduced by Sugar (Lea Massari) – before they accept him. Their objective is to kidnap a young woman who is a witness in a trial.
And Hope to Die (La course du lièvre à travers les champs, which translates as The Track of the Hare Across the Fields, which is explained towards the end of the film) was the film Clément made after The Deadly Trap and as it turned out was his penultimate. It is adapted by Sébastien Japrisot from a novel, Black Friday, by David Goodis. There's an irony right there: Goodis (1917-1967) was a prolific American crime writer whose work was adapted by Hollywood – and by the French, and another of his novels formed the basis of Truffaut's Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Pianist), a key work of the New Wave which had put Clément and his generation of French filmmakers out of fashion,
Nominally a thriller, And Hope to Die is full of odd angles throughout its unusually long (for its genre) running time. Although made in France, the film is set in Canada, with the entire cast speaking French – and that includes the three Americans, Robert Ryan (a year before his death, and visibly ailing), Aldo Ray (at his most thuggish) and Tisa Farrow (younger sister of Mia, with an odd career taking in Zombie Flesh-Eaters and a small role in a film directed by her sister's future significant other, Manhattan) and the one Italian, Lea Massari. The group of criminals that Tony inveigles himself into includes a father figure (Charley) and an overtly sexualised “mother” (which Clément emphasises by having Massari braless under her top for about a third of the running time and by giving her a gratuitous shower scene) – note that her name is Sugar. An alternative condiment is provided by the “daughter”/nymphet Pepper, played by Farrow in full-on spacey-hippie-chick mode. The storyline seems straightforward enough, but what is the relevance of a prologue set in Marseilles – to which the film returns to in flashbacks - where a young Tony tries to join in with a gang of kids who seem to correlate to the criminal gang, even though only Charley seems to have ever been to France? Some of the dialogue is clunky – yes, you actually do hear someone (Ray) say “We have ways of making you talk.” In between the psychological gameplaying and some well-achieved action scenes, Clément tops and tails his film with an overt nod to Lewis Carroll, something he also did three years earlier in Rider on the Rain, suggesting that all is certainly not what it seems, but it's an intriguing journey all the same.
Released in France in 1972, And Hope to Die did not cross the Channel until 1975 when the BBFC originally passed it with a AA certificate, restricting it to those aged fourteen and over. (It's now a 12 for “moderate violence” but in the unlikely events of younger children wanting to watch it, parents should be aware it's at the stronger end of that category.) This DVD marks its first commercial availability since its cinema release, though there was a late-night BBC1 television screening in 1986.
Clément made one more film, La baby sitter (Scar Tissue in English), in 1975 before retiring. He died on 17 March 1996, a day before his eighty-third birthday.
And Hope to Die is released on a single-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
The feature is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 1.66:1, anamorphically enhanced. There are no issues with this transfer, which is sharp and colourful, and faithful to the slightly orange bias of 70s Eastman Colour. Some shots are soft-focussed, but I have no reason to doubt that's intentional.
The soundtrack is the original mono, and with dialogue, music and effects well balanced. This is an entirely French-language film (with fixed electronic English subtitles provided). However, you can see that the non-French in the cast are all speaking their lines in French, but that Ryan, Ray and Farrow have been dubbed, presumably to remove their American accents. Massari, on the other hand, seems to be speaking with her own voice. (By contrast, Rider on the Rain had Charles Bronson speaking his lines in English and being dubbed in the French version.)
No extras once again, not even a trailer.