Mad Mad Mad Mademoiselle
‘MADEMOISELLE was the most beautiful black-and-white film I have ever, ever seen. It was staggering. [...] It’s black-and-white ‘scope and they were using different stocks which had different flare factors and different qualities of the way the blacks and greys played for each scene. You were choosing stock to make something look great. It was very experimental and it was quite wonderful and it is not a distinguished film.’
~ Richard Lester talking to Steven Soderbergh about Tony Richardson and Jean Genet’s MADEMOISELLE.
I was inclined to agree with the above after my first viewing — that was a fuzzy VHS pan-and-scan but the film was still clearly gorgeous. Now I’ve seen the DVD I think the film IS distinguished. It’s a study in the psychopathology of evil (feminine and masculine varieties) and almost stands as a companion to Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU — except it’s defiantly NOT a thriller. In both films a sleepy French village is decimated by random, insane attacks (poison pen letters in the Clouzot, arson, flooding and poisoning in the Richardson). In both films the mob seeks convenient scapegoats based on passion and prejudice rather than reasoning.
But the textures and sounds of Richardson’s films are wholly unique. The late David Watkin’s photography is seductive and icy and erotic and oneiric. Jeanne Moreau’s mesmeric performance is placed under a microscope, and the Panavision lenses practically drool over the man she lusts after. Kevin Connor’s sound montage replaces music score with the chirrups and lowings of rural life, creating a strange, floaty time-scape almost wholly devoid of narrative tension but lambent with unfocused menace and desire.
The peculiar psychopathology uncovered through a somewhat somnambular narrative and a long flashback sequence is positively Ballardian — a series of mental associations formed at a moment of passionate intensity have set Moreau’s schoolmarm on a path of destruction, assuaging her sexual frustration with meaningless acts of cruelty (for which she must put on her high heels and make-up). It’s verging on misogyny, though I’m sure we can think of numerous films where male characters act in an equally vicious fashion due to thwarted desire.
Watkin and Richardson delight in cramming their characters into the farthest corners of the frame.
‘MADEMOISELLE was ludicrous, made worse by the fact that Franju had been deprived of the chance of filming Genet’s original with Anouk Aimée.’ ~ David Thomson.
While admitting that the prospect of a Franju version is enticing, unless Richardson actually stepped in and squashed that production, I can’t see he’s to blame for making his own version. And I find the film rather alluring, and certainly not ludicrous — although it’s utterly devoid of humour, which can certainly be risky.
No humour, no music, so I SHOULDN’T like this film, and the fact that I do must be highly significant.