Patricia Highsmith: Swiss filmmakers turn the writer into a character


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As Patricia Highsmith’s centenary draws to a close, a new Swiss documentary about the controversial writer will open the Solothurn Film Festival 2022, and another is currently in production. His legacy of misanthropic characters whose crimes usually pay off, doesn’t seem to have time to die.

This content was published on December 24, 2021 – 09:00

At the end of November, SWI swissinfo.ch learned that Loving blacksmith, a documentary produced in part by Swiss public television channels SRF (German) and RSI (Italian), will serve as the opening event of 2022 Solothurn Film FestivalExternal link (January 19-26), the full lineup of which was recently unveiled. Just days after the announcement, the Ticino Film Commission unveiledExternal link that a second documentary on Patricia Highsmith is currently in production in the Italian-speaking part of the country, where the American novelist spent the last part of her life – she died in Locarno in 1995 and is buried in the nearby village of Tegna.

The double whammy is a remarkable way to end what has been a fairly intense year of highlights at Highsmith. Her 100th birthday was celebrated on January 19 and as fate willed it, Loving blacksmith will celebrate its world premiere on its 101st anniversary, ahead of theatrical release on March 11. The film is directed by Basel Eva Vitija,External link who came up with the idea for the project after discovering Highsmith’s diaries and notebooks and discovering a whole different side of the author’s life and personality.

Much like his most famous creation, the amoral and hedonistic con artist and serial killer Tom Ripley (soon to return to the screen in a television series produced by the Showtime cable network), Highsmith’s identity was complex; his homosexuality forces him to lead a double life. While her sexual tendency was no secret to those close to her, she tried to “cure” herself with psychotherapy to prevent her personal life from harming her career.

She also adopted the pseudonym Claire Morgan when she first published her novel. The price of salt (1952), featuring a lesbian love story. It was not until 1990, five years before his death, that the novel was reissued under his real name and under a new title, Carole, which was shortlisted for the 2015 film adaptation. Ripley’s Stories, Much like the author’s first novel Strangers on a train, can also be interpreted through a queer lens, although Highsmith herself has played down any gay tendencies when discussing the killer’s personality.

The “bad” side

Duality was also a key part of his personal writings, which were published last month after careful editing. Eight thousand pages of journal and notebook entries have been transformed into a 1,000-page book. In addition to English, she wrote her private reflections in German and French, among others – ostensibly to improve her learning of these languages, but also to cover up some of her more obnoxious opinions. She was frequently racist and violently anti-Semitic – probably what The Guardian refers by saying that some newspaper passages are “bad”External link.

These aspects may shock readers for the very simple reason that they have so far largely escaped media coverage. While the bigotry of, say, HP LovecraftExternal link An integral part of his literary personality for decades, Highsmith’s prejudices were rather an open secret, sometimes mentioned but rarely in any meaningful way.

A classic example of this is a 2015 Guardian piece written by Phyllis nagyExternal link, who adapted Carole for film and befriended Highsmith in 1987. Describing a visit to the author’s Swiss accommodation, she briefly compares her friend to an embarrassing elderly relative with outmoded opinions, mentioning her generally state of mind. conservative and his support for Palestine, which “has often turned into anti-Semitism.”

It remains to be seen whether one or the other documentary will address these facets. The Solothurn press release and quotes from the director suggest that Loving blacksmith will focus more on her romantic endeavors – an interesting topic in itself, especially since she casually jumped from partner to partner without caring about feelings hurt along the way. Its journals note former lovers attempting to commit suicide.

Still, that Highsmith continues to generate such interest from filmmakers remains a notable achievement, given the high caliber of work based on his writings. His first novel was brought to the screen by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, and Tom Ripley has been portrayed by stars including Alain Delon, Dennis Hopper, Matt Damon and John Malkovich (for the upcoming Showtime series, the role was attributed to Irish actor Andrew Scott, best known for playing Moriarty in SherlockExternal link).

As the centenary year draws to a close, we can expect more Highsmith screen material in the months to come, with the added bonus of these works that can shine a light on southern parts of Switzerland.

Spotlight on Switzerland

It is also part of an effort by the Ticino Film Commission: to make the region known outside its linguistic boundaries. During a presentation which took place during the Castellinaria Film Festival in mid-November, the Commission obtained funding to translate scripts in order to make them more easily accessible to those interested in French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland who do not speak necessarily Italian.

In this sense, it is normal – as unintentional as it is – that one of the first major national releases of 2022 is the portrait of an international cultural figure, and the result of a partnership between two countries (Switzerland and Germany). , as well as two regional units of the Swiss Public Broadcasting Corporation (of which SWI swissinfo.ch is a part). And while the title of the documentary, Loving blacksmith, may not apply to all aspects of Highsmith’s life, it certainly works as a token of appreciation for her role in the Swiss cultural sphere.

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