Mad Mad Mad Mademoiselle

Lessons in Love 

‘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.

Sleeping Beauty

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.

Lake Placid

Jeanne of the Angels

Peeping Tom

‘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.


6 Responses to “Mad Mad Mad Mademoiselle”

  1. The Genet-script-that-became-Mademoselle is a far more complicated story, and I strongly reccomend you read Edmund White’s Genet for all the skinny. Genet originally wrote it for Anouk Aimee and presented it as wedding present to her and Nico Papatakis — who produced Un Chant d’Amour which was shot in the basement of his Paris nightclub. Despite this “gift” Genet kept seeling the script to sundry parties over the years when he needed money. I gather he expected Papatakis would film it with Anouk starring.

  2. I know Genet’s life is a fascinating one, but I’ve never read any version of it. When I do, I’ll make it the White.

    On a less elevated note, have just attended a talk by Richard Stanley, so I’ll try and write something about that this weekend.

  3. Here are Nico Papatakis’ credits

    Les Abysses is his film of Jean Vauthier’s version of the Papin sisters case — which inspired Genet’s The Maids (and Chabrol’s La Ceremonie)
    His last film Les Equlibristes is about Genet’s last great love, a young Arab whose tightrope-walking act Genet promoted into something special. The kid, plucked from utter obscurity, couldn’t deal with the world Genet had created for him and killed himself. Genet,overcome with grief, then left France and wandered into the Palestinian territories where he wrote his posthumously published masterpiece Prisoner of Love.

    Michel Piccoli plays Genet in Papatakis’ film.

    Papatakis is also famous for his relation to Nico — the model/actress/singer/junkie legend. Born Christa Paffgen, this great natural beauty became a model when the fashion director of a Berlin department store named Tobias spotted her. Telling her that Christa was unsuitable for a career he named her Nico after a man he saw briefly and fell in madly unconsummated love with — Nico Papatakis. Thanks to Tobias’ grooming she was a hit. She went to Paris on one of her modelling jaunts and met Papatakis by chance. They became great friends and it was he who encouraged her singing career. You can find out all about this (plus her affairs with Bob Dylan, Jackson Brown, Jim Morrison, Philippe Garrel and Alain Delon) in the great documentary Nico/Icon which is available on DVD

  4. Thanks for that — am adding Nico/Icon to my rental list as I type this!

    There, it’s done.

  5. […] it tells you what it’s for. I must get around to watching this movie, especially since I saw MADEMOISELLE, Tony Richardson’s other Jeanne Moreau flop (the two films, made back-to-back, almost killed […]

  6. […] think the most beautiful black and white film I ever saw was David’s film of MADEMOISELLE, Tony Richardson’s film, which was booed out of the cinema when it showed at Cannes. They […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: