In a French village, there have been recent floods and fires. The blame falls on Manou (Ettore Manni), a hunky Italian logger with an eye for the ladies. But the real culprit is the local schoolteacher, known only as Mademoiselle (Jeanne Moreau), who is infatuated with Manou.
Mademoiselle originated as a Jean Genet script, written in French, which was originally to be directed by Georges Franju and would have starred Anouk Aimée. However, the version which reached the screen, with Genet’s script translated into English, was directed by Tony Richardson and starred Jeanne Moreau. (The film was shot in English and French versions, and Bernard Frechtman gains a prominent credit underneath Genet's for his translation. The IMDB also credits Marguerite Duras as a writer, but she is not credited on screen.) Mademoiselle flopped and a bad reputation precedes it. I’m fairly sure that I haven’t had a chance to see this film before the DVD release – I was only two when it showed in the cinema and I don’t remember, and have been unable to trace, any TV showings. To my surprise I found I liked this film a great deal.
Yes, it overdoes the Freudian symbolism: water associated with Moreau’s character and a snake with Manni’s. Mademoiselle is introduced with fetishistic close-ups of her lace-gloved hands and her black high-heeled shoes before we see her face. This is a world away from the realist films with which Richardson began his career. Given the presence of a gay writer and a bisexual director (not to mention a gay DP – David Watkin), it’s not difficult to read Mademoiselle as a coded gay film, with themes of destructive, forbidden passions abounding. Given that the two lovers do not have a common language, Richardson and Watkin place greater emphasis on their visuals. While I certainly haven’t seen all of Richardson’s work, Mademoiselle is unlike any of his other films I’ve seen – the domestic realism of his early stage and novel adaptations, the comic/satirical outlook of his historical films such as Tom Jones and The Charge of the Light Brigade. Here he’s in European art movie mode, one that possibly takes itself a little too seriously – how far it tips over into the actively ludicrous is for you to decide..
Much of the credit should go to David Watkin, ignored by the Oscars but BAFTA-nominated for his work here. (Mademoiselle's only BAFTA Award was for Jocelyn Rickard's costume design.) Watkin's distinction with his colour work during his three-and-a-half-decade career as a feature-film DP is not in doubt, but on the evidence of this it’s a pity he didn’t work in black and white more often: his only other monochrome feature was his first, The Knack. His work here is masterly, creating images that last in the mind longer than the story does.
After Mademoiselle, Richardson remained in Europe for his final black and white film, the Marguerite Duras-scripted The Sailor from Gibraltar, which has become just as rarely shown as its predecessor, before returning to England for The Charge of the Light Brigade.
Mademoiselle is released on DVD by Optimum as one of their Tony Richardson Collection (simultaneously with Look Back in Anger and Joseph Andrews), on a single-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. Only the English version is on this disc: it's a pity that the French version could not have been included as well, as Optimum have done with their recent release of Rider on the Rain, a longer film than Mademoiselle. This version is mostly in English with much of the cast postsynched (though Moreau did her own), Some Italian dialogue has fixed electronic subtitles, but as ever with Optimum releases there are no subtitles provided for the English dialogue.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 2.40:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. This is excellent, with strong blacks and plenty of greyscale. Contrast, vital in a black and white film, seems spot on, and grain natural and filmlike.
The soundtrack is mono, generally clear and well balanced.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer, which is presented in 4:3 and runs.1:55.
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