Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mademoiselle Is A Lost Classic

Mademoiselle was a film produced in 1966 by director Tony Richardson, (he of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner fame). It stars one of my favorite actresses of all time, the stunningly beautiful, preternaturally talented Jeanne Moreau, (she of Jules and Jim fame). It is a story of sexual repression and reprehensible evil, written by the immortal Jean Genet.

The film is set in a French country hamlet, where a series of mysterious, tragic events have befallen the town. Arson, livestock poisoning, etc. have occurred, causing confusion and loss amongst the villagers. Soon the angry citizens turn their focus on the Italian laborers who are the only outsiders amongst them, slowly tightening their noose around them as their suspicions grow. What they don't realize though, is that the gorgeous schoolmistress, pillar of the community, is responsible for all the disasters. This is not a spoiler - the film opens with her opening the dike to flood the village.

's performance is so far ahead of it's time - this was her "female vengeance" part, the precursor to her role in Francois Truffaut's full scale femme revenge fantasy The Bride Wore Black (clearly a Tarantino favorite, as virtually every female character he has ever written seems to be the offspring of Moreau's bride character, especially Kill Bill I & II). She is complex, placid, feral, authoritative, and in control, simultaneously. Her performance is so unconventional - simmering malice can be detected in the slight details. The way she puts her black gloves on when preparing to do some unspeakable evil, her awful berating of the Italian laborer's son - constantly presage her nefarious intentions.

The stark black and white imagery is stunning, and individual frames appear as pieces of art unto themselves, with amazing depth of focus and asymmetrical compositions. This is wicked good film making, where all the usual audience conventions are subverted from the get go.

This is a fascinating moment in cinema, and if you are a fan of Moreau, especially her impeccable work of the period, then seek it out. I bought it on DVD for $2.50 on Amazon, so you can buy it cheaper than to rent it. Definitely worth a look for any cinephile.

TCM has a great review of it here.