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DEATH RITE (Magiciens, Les) (director/writer: Claude Chabrol; screenwriter: Paul Gégauff; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Monique Fardoulis; cast: Franco Nero (Sadry), Stefania Sandrelli (Sylvia), Jean Rochefort (Edouard), Gert Fröbe (Professor Vestar), Gila von Weitershausen (Martine), Moheddine Mrad (doctor), Jalla Baccar (Sadry’s Sister), Madame Ben Chadly (Sadry’s Mother), Habib Chaari (Balloon Seller), Cecile Labussiere (Caterina); Runtime: 94; 1976-France/West Germany/Italy)
“One of Chabrol’s weaker films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of Chabrol’s weaker films. The video version I saw was badly dubbed in English and showed Tunisian subtitles. It’s a B-mystery that engages the occult. It asks you to believe that the clairvoyants could see what is pre-destined. Death Rite is set in a ritzy tourist hotel on an island in Tunis that has open skies, a beach, a desert, and palm trees.

After a plane from Europe lands in Tunis, a performing magician, Professor Vestar (Fröbe), gets a ride from another passenger, Edouard (Rochefort), to the hotel. After Edouard explains himself as a wealthy idler, who came here to rest and watch the tourists, the magician takes him to a spot in the desert where he says he had a vision a woman would be strangled with a noose. In his vision he saw red spots in the sky at the time of the murder.

Also on the plane and staying at the same ritzy hotel are a young couple, the beautiful but spoiled European, Sylvia (Sandrelli), who already has a headache, and her Tunisian-born husband who rose from poverty to become a successful Parisian architect, Sadry (Nero). They seem to have nothing in common, but he’s attracted to her beauty. Sylvia has never met Sadry’s dying mother, which is the reason for his visit.

Martine (Weitershausen) is an attractive brunette who is also staying at the ritzy hotel, and she’s Sadry’s mistress.

Edouard and Sadry’s mistress are out riding in the desert on the day after the magician performed at the hotel. They witness a woman fall off her horse, which was the same vision the magician told them about beforehand.

Edouard is absorbed by these visions, not claiming to believe or not believe them. But he says he has nothing else in life to do but think, so he gleefully meddles. When the magician says he must leave tomorrow and work in another country, Edouard offers to double his wages if he works for him instead.

Another troubling vision about the expected murder is told to Edouard by the magician, this time it involves a figurine bought at the place where Sadry’s father worked as a potter. It is prophesized that Martine will buy it and give it to Sadry as a gift, who in turn will give it to his wife. Edouard upsets the couple by separately telling them about the magician’s doomed prophesy, as Sadry loses his temper with the magician and berates him in public. The magician is certain that Sylvia is doomed.

The climax builds to when Sylvia catches her husband embracing Martine and the visions of the prophesy begin to unfold. Edouard seems to want to help things along by buying a bunch of red balloons on the beach and giving it to a little girl to hold. When he returns she moved to a different spot, but they still release the balloons. This changes how the vision unfolds.

Chabrol is having some fun spoofing the conventions of magic and the rationality of science, and how the idle rich have nothing to do in this world but make trouble. The story was slight, the suspense was not earth shattering, and it resulted in film that hardly mattered.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”