Dir: Tony Richardson, 1966. Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Ettore Manni, Keith Skinner, Georges Aubert. Foreign.

To open a film with mischief is to prepare an audience for unknown degrees of tension. One is unaware of its magnitude or meaning at first, but hyperaware of its presence throughout the work. Tony Richardson's Mademoiselle begins with the breathtaking Jeanne Moreau (Elevator to the Gallows) tampering with the village sluice gate, causing a flood. She walks away from this menacing act only to stumble upon another opportunity for destruction; she crushes eggs in an onlooking bird's nest. This immediate and blatant portrait of sadism--outlined by serenity and juxtaposed with glimpses of the annual springtime procession through the fields--is one of the most powerful first impressions of a character that I've yet to behold. It's enough to make one utter "And this is only the beginning...."

Richardson keeps an impeccable pace throughout the film. We are thrust into one of many chaotic scenarios as farmers try to save their livestock from drowning. Here we are introduced to the town "hero," a strapping Italian named Manou (Ettore Manni, City of Women) who has developed a bit of a bad reputation despite his valiant efforts. His good looks have placed him with several women from the town, all of whom are either married and/or Catholic, and therefore expected to maintain their chastity until being so. His perceived weak morality and status as an immigrant has made him and his preteen son despised in a small town that is already in arms over their unknown and dangerous vandal.

Moreau's character is literally the town Mademoiselle, a schoolteacher of rigid values and dress. She is also the police secretary, unmarried and intrinsically obsessed with destruction and Manou. Her obsession is manifested and given a life of its own in her classroom, where Manou's son Bruno (Keith Skinner, Romeo and Juliet) attends school. Bruno is the target of her cruel and desperate mind games--born, seemingly, of sexual repression--and the young lad is somehow a willing pawn due to her poise and beauty. Naturally, Mademoiselle's acts grow more brazen and detrimental to the village, causing a few hotheads in the town to begin their own manhunt for the culprit...until tragedy strikes.

Laced within the narrative are intrinsic flashbacks that leave the viewer in a constant state of conflicted awe. These serve as windows into the inner struggles of the key character--and those who either adore or detest them--and it is here we find the film's beauty, outside of the visual mastery. These are windows into those who've come undone, those who are cuckolded and ones who never stood a chance. Seems simple enough, but I assure you it's anything but.

The score is sparse and timed to perfection. In terms of the old adage "show don't tell," this film would actually serve as a wonderful example in classrooms. All this aside, the real reason to see the film is Moreau. If you're familiar with her work, you know that she commonly plays sad, if not tortured, heroines with an ever-present classiness that I've yet to see matched by a leading lady. To view her as the same sort of character but also ultimately a sadist, is--in all honesty--mind-blowing. Therefore, the film comes highly recommended to fans of hers but also who who can appreciate an almost Hitchcockian mystery. Well, even when it's a mental mystery and not a who-done-it.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Sep 3, 2015 2:40pm
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