Aug 31, 2012

Marie, the Doll

Although later best known for his sex comedies and work in television, French auteur Joël Séria would make one more film in the shuddersome spirit of his debut heretical arthouse-exploitation masterpiece Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971). Also starring his lush lover Jeanne Goupil, Marie-Poupée (1976) aka Marie, the Doll is another sombre yet sweet film about unhealthy obsession, little girls and the dirty old men that love them. After the relative commercial success of his sex comedy Cookies (1975) aka Les galettes de Pont-Aven, Séria would take the opportunity direct what would arguably be his most artistically ambiguous and prestigious effort Marie, The Doll; a minor masterpiece of 1970s French cinema. Innately minimalistic, nicely nuanced, and less sensational and gratuitous, Marie, the Doll is ultimately a more mature yet significantly dismal and disheartening work than Don't Deliver Us from Evil. Centering around a unsuspecting woman-child named Marie – a cute and cutesy teenager that strives for moral perfection and believes in the innate goodness of mankind – who makes the drastic mistake of marrying a man that she doesn’t even remotely know how to begin to understand due to her gross naïveté and social ineptness, let alone seriously love, Marie, the Doll is a splendid, diacritic heart-breaker of a film, akin to watching a litter of puppies being drowned at a scenic lake, where one gazes on as a young, softhearted girl slowly but surely perishes as she progressively glowers like a wilting flower until her inevitable date with the blue hour. Throughout Marie, the Doll, Goupil is featured in a variety of comprised and often unclothed positions, thus leading the viewer to conclude that Joël Séria was very serious about filmmaking to treat his lover that way for the sake of art; that or he is some sort of sneering sadist (I like to think the former). Either way, Goupil herself is quite the tiny trooper, but one wouldn’t expect anything less from the girl that read Comte de Lautréamont and was subsequently inspired to commit self-immolation with her blonde gal pal in Don't Deliver Us from Evil. Instead of not being unshackled from pernicious forces, Goupil is unknowingly delivered to it in Marie, the Doll; a work that tests one’s endurance where cinematic work itself acting as a bittersweet torture device.

 Marie, the Doll centers around a quasi-autistic 17-year-old orphan girl named Marie (played by then-25-year-old Jeanne Goupil) who was raised by her amorous but detrimentally old-fashioned grandparents and seems to have never advanced past her toddler years in terms of erotic and emotional maturity and love of baby dolls. One day, merry Marie meets a respectable and debonair bourgeois shop owner named Claude (André Dussollier) who shares her odd obsession with dolls, thus leading to their swift and headlong marriage. Vaguely resembling the perverted Jewish-Polish auteur Roman Polanski during his younger years in appearance and startlingly foretelling the filmmaker's arrest for statuary rape 1-year later – one can only wonder where Séria got the inspiration for the character of Claude – as Marie, the Doll is surely a work that would both titillate and terrify the Rosemary’s Baby (1968) director due to its themes of pedophilia and master-slave relationships. Upon first marrying him, Marie seems quite jubilant with her relationship with Claude as they share a similar distinct fanaticism for dolls, but it soon becomes blatantly apparent that the older man sees the girl as just another one his objects that he can dress up however he wants whenever he likes. On the night of their wedding, Claude gives Marie her first doll-dress and forces her to play a roleplay game where she must pretend to be inanimate as he carefully undresses and subsequently bathes her. Initially, this scene may seem like a tender and intimate moment capturing Claude’s gentlemanly and loving adornment of Marie, but it is far from it. Quite agitated and hurt by Claude’s sexual disinterest in her and accelerating authoritarian demeanor, Marie begins to entertain the seedy sexual propositions of a low-class farmer – who she also doesn’t seem quite able to understand – due to her overwhelming feeling of rejection and abandonment and her unquenchable desire for intimacy. Undoubtedly influenced by the early works of Italian Marxist-Freudian auteur Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist, 1900), the two men act as archetypes for extremes of male sexuality: Claude, being a mostly impotent and hopelessly perverted member of the decadent bourgeois and the farmer, symbolizing the virile sexuality and rampant heterosexuality of the proletariat. Of course, both of these men prove to be too much for supersensitive Marie – who due to her latent sexuality and lack of emotional maturity – seems too infantine for any man.

Almost like a modern (albeit erotic) fairy tale in theme and style, Marie, the Doll is a remarkably original film that is impossible to classify. Far too restrained and genteel to be considered a exploitation work, Marie, the Doll is an aberrant arthouse film with a typically French, nihilistic ending which although unsettling, fairly abrupt, and menacingly melodramatic, acts a perfect puissant testimony to the loss of one girl’s innocence, which is quite a dramatic shift for director Joël Séria, who in Don't Deliver Us from Evil, persuaded the viewer to root for Satanic teenage lesbian lovers with a penchant for torturing holy men. In Marie, the Doll – a work that neither fits in nicely with the genre conventions of horror nor drama – a suave and physically unintimidating man who is fond of dolls becomes the most contemptible of human monsters, which has a lot more to do with the actuality of real-life predatory archfiends than a retard in a hockey mask and a choleric, terminal cancer patient.  I do not think it would be a stretch to say that Marie, the Dolls is the cinematic equivalent of Stuart Gordon's Dolls (1987), Child's Play (1988), and Puppetmaster (1989) for Truffaut and Fassbinder fans.

-Ty E


Madeleine Desdevises said...

I really was like a French Heather O`Rourke and it really would be nice to see my only movie "La Drolesse" (1979) reveiwed on this site, after all you do specialise in reveiwing incredibly obscure cult-items so it would be perfection.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I found this magical isolated place today where there were all these reeds blowing in the wind with water just below them, like at the beginning of Tarkovskys "Solaris" (1971), as i was standing there i saw Heather moving around amongst the reeds, she looked at me and smiled the sweetest most beautiful smile i have ever seen, then she was gone, it was such an incredible mo-girl-t of Andrei Tarkovsky/Heather O`Rourke perfection. I even thought, i wish Ty E and mAQ could`ve been here to experience that as well, thats how astonishing it was.

Unknown said...

That's a neat trick, Madeleine - you died in 1982 😳