Director Bertrand Tavernier provides an unexpected feminist slant to the otherwise standard sci-fi trappings of Death Watch. Harvey Keitel plays a man of the future who has had a camera implanted in his brain. The mechanism, which is endowed with special X-ray properties, is activated by the user's eyes. Keitel is assigned by ruthless TV producer Harry Dean Stanton to secretly probe the subconscious of a dying woman, played by Romy Schneider. Stanton is only interested in the grim spectacle of what goes on inside the brain of someone who knows she's doomed. Keitel, on the other hand, becomes increasingly compassionate--and disgusted by the tawdriness of his assignment--as he stares into Schneider's tortured psyche.
/ West Germany
Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier
. Starring: Romy Schneider
, Harvey Keitel
, Harry Dean Stanton
, Thérèse Liotard
, Max von Sydow
, Caroline Langrishe
, William Russell
, Vadim Glowna
, Eva Maria Meineke
, Bernhard Wicki
, Freddie Boardley
, Robbie Coltrane
, Julian Hough
. Music by: Antoine Duhamel
The world is so infatuating, troubled and desperate that the only way we can care about it is to run away from our troubles by seeing others in distress, dying or getting killed by the thousands each day on the news or in fictionalized accounts as we get ourselves fed in what is called "entertainment". In the world of "Deathwatch", the latest advance in satisfying bored beings (won't call them human since most of them here are mere walking robots) is to follow a reality TV show whose main star is a terminal patient who is about to die at any moment.
A show like this would be considered an outrageous act, a new low yet all sides of the issue whether being regular viewers or righteous souls opposed to it, they all watch it. Why? Because its too hard to kill curiosity. You may wonder how this managed to be presented? Well, we have Roddy (Harvey Keitel), a volunteer on a new experience where he has a camera implanted on his brain which records everything he sees, his eyes are the intrepid lenses who follow the poor Katherine (Romy Schnieder) recently diagnosed with an incurable disease. The filming of someone's downfall reflects in the escalating viewers numbers who are in it, trapped in this program, just waiting for the final hour. They want to be there, they wanna be present in those moments thinking they won't let her die alone. She'll have the company of millions.
George Orwell's "1984", Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" all worked in giving us frightening visions of a future that already was somewhat happening in the time these authors were living. We're followed everywhere, there's pleasure everywhere, books are depressive and if you go against your rules there's punishment ahead waiting for you. I was almost waiting for "Deathwatch" to be a little like those examples (this is based on David Compton's novel), but it missed an authoritarian government to force people to watch it. But there's conflict, not only between idealisms (very reduced) but the one fought by Katherine and her choices since she doesn't want to be involved at all in this ludicrous spectacle worked on her back on her disgrace. Here starts many of the films confusing issues. It throws that mass consumerism and media are evil forces but it never gives them a proper face: the audience who watches the reality show all look simple people, compelled by the woman's tragedy; the master behind the curtains (Harry Dean Stanton) seems too good despite his ways of getting what he wants, always hiding himself from anything until he realizes there's no other way than show up and face the problem. We're never able to see who is sponsoring it; and why it's so important to present such thing.
I'm not sure if the problem lies in the original source or in the way such was translated to the screen. All I know is that as long as it kept feeding me with ideas, new paths of thinking the unthinkable or the less shown on other films it kept me captivated, fully immersed in its story. Then the second half came in, proving to be sadly Hollywoodian and simplistic and disengaging. Luckily, the movie didn't mirrored its characters in the sense of us watching something dying slowly in front of our eyes. The final result is an interesting piece about mortality and how powerless humans are in face of many obstacles (and this is all sides of the issue, when it comes to Roddy's own problems while filming this project). Bertrand Tavernier makes an artistic, different and beautiful film over a delicate and rarely touched upon theme with efficiency which is death and everything surround it.
Here's a quite innovative sci-fi film, more human, down to earth and less imaginative and technical as those films tend to be, "Deathwatch" is a thoughtful experience with pleasant and powerful performances by Schneider, Keitel and Max von Sydow playing Katherine's first husband.
Review by Rodrigo Amaro from the Internet Movie Database.