Director: Tony Richardson
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Ettore Manni, Keith Skinner
Synopsis: A repressed schoolteacher becomes infatuated with an Italian woodcutter.
Jeanne Moreau (Les quatre cents coups) gives a supremely understated performance in Mademoiselle, an intriguing drama of sexual repression and infatuation played out against the backdrop of a simple French rural village. She plays a spinster schoolteacher, drifting towards middle age alone (and resembling Bette Davis) who becomes obsessed with Manou (Ettore Manni), an Italian woodcutter who is despised by the villagers because of his nationality. Psychologically incapable of having a normal relationship with a man, and frustrated by the way in which Manou avails himself of the village’s less uptight women, she engineers a series of natural catastrophes (fire and flood) so that she can observe him heroically saving those endangered by her acts. However, despite his acts of bravery, the villagers unanimously accuse Manou of being the culprit. Mademoiselle also behaves cruelly to Manou’s son, who forlornly seeks her favour.
Mademoiselle has all the qualities of a classic – a spare but insightful script, depth of characterisation, beautiful cinematography and imagery, an assured director’s touch – but is badly let down by an ill-conceived final act. Not because what happens is not believable, but because writer Jean Genet and director Tony Richardson choose to depict Mademoiselle’s encounter with Manou as a kind of pretentiously surreal and symbolic dream that seems to last forever. Such pretentiousness is completely at odds with the realism that enshrouds the rest of the film, and seems to serve little purpose other than to draw attention to itself in much the same way as a perfume ad. The film is over-laden with symbolic images (mirrors, snakes, etc) which might have been forgivable from a less experienced director, but Richardson had already helmed a number of acknowledged classics before taking on this project.
(Reviewed 8th March 2012)