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  Mademoiselle With Evil On Her Mind
Year: 1966
Director: Tony Richardson
Stars: Jeanne Moreau, Ettore Manni, Keith Skinner, Umberto Orsini, Georges Aubert, Jane Beretta, Paul Barge, Pierre Collet, Gerard Darieu, Jean Gras, Gabriel Gobin, Rosine Luguet, Antoine Morin, Georges Douking, Jacques Monod, Mony Rey
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's a troublemaker in this small French village, and nobody knows who it is. Well, almost nobody: the culprit is aware of her identity, for she is the local schoolteacher, known only as Mademoiselle (Jeanne Moreau) to both her pupils and the adults in the region. But while she has an apparently unimpeachable reputation among them as a prim and proper member of the community, she has a grim secret of sabotage that is causing havoc at regular intervals. Take today, when the children are out with the nuns on a parade: while the villagers are distracted, she visits the floodgates of the nearby dam and opens them...

Tony Richardson after he directed nineteen-sixties megahit Tom Jones had something of a bumpy ride in his career, since the expectation was he would follow that and the other British New Wave movies he had been instrumental in with another huge success, and another, and another... but it was not to be. First he went to Hollywood to helm black comedy The Loved One, which though now a cult movie was not universally liked, or even welcomed by the loyal few by too much, and after that he went to France where he was in charge of this effort, Mademoiselle, which sounded more promising, a serious character drama written by Jean Genet.

Well, that was the theory, but Genet was only credited with the "scenario" on the end result, seeing as how it was rewritten by a number of other hands which did not exactly solve the issues that wound up on the screen. But there was a respectability this was patently striving for in general that it did not quite match: Richardson was still a "name" director, it was starring the respected actress Moreau, it was a self-consciously Continental project, and had some rather lovely widescreen, black and white cinematography to at least lend it a classy appearance. However, when it was all edited together, the critics were sceptical and audiences uninterested.

Maybe the biggest problem was that in its attempt to stare keenly at the abyss in the soul of its main character/villainess, it ended up a little silly. So nasty were her antics that you could just have easily filmed this as a black comedy like The Loved One and it might even have been more effective, especially when there was no attempt to explain why the schoolteacher was quite as evil as she was, we simply had to take it for granted. Her main obsession is starting fires, and a little after we join her she has continued to burn barns in the vicinity, but so far as no one has realised it's her behind it, she is not too bothered about shifting blame, though one of her students, son of strapping Italian lumberjack immigrant Ettore Manni, has begun to suspect her, mainly because she insists on victimising him in classes.

This has a twisted effect on the boy, Bruno (Keith Skinner, one of the few Brits cast), who buckles under the pressure and starts killing a rabbit and lashing out at his father, who to compound matters is something of a lothario now his wife has passed on. Now the plot takes shape: Mademoiselle will allow him to seduce her, which she does in a somewhat absurd set of sequences that indicate they have been at it most of the day and all of the night in the surrounding countryside, but allowing him to sate his lust will have serious consequences most viewers will see coming a mile off. In the meantime, she poisons the local livestock, an apt metaphor for her toxic influence in a film that indulged itself with symbolism at every opportunity. Maybe it was down to the artificiality of the premise, which although not unique in French cinema did make this look a bit copycat, maybe it was because it was too desperately trying to be important by being horrible (always a pitfall), but this didn't score thematically: where it did succeed was as beautifully photographed, unpleasant camp.

[The BFI release this on Blu-ray and DVD with these features:

Newly recorded audio commentary by Adrian Martin
Keith Skinner: Remembering Mademoiselle (2020, 36 mins): the actor and historian discusses his work on Mademoiselle
Doll's Eye (1982, 75 mins): rare and never before released BFI Production Board film directed by Jan Worth that examines contradictory male attitudes to women as they affect a researcher, a prostitute and a switchboard operator
Image gallery
Original theatrical trailer
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** Illustrated booklet with new writing on the film by Jon Dear and Neil Young. Also includes writing on Jean Genet by Jane Giles and an essay by Jan Worth on Doll's Eye.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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