Oct 11, 2013
Films about female psychopaths, especially good and realistic ones, are not exactly easy to come by, which one can certainly expect in a mixed world where ‘feminism’ (or at least some bastardized form of it) reigns and where the white male has become the cinematic archetype of sociopathy. Undoubtedly, if I were to select a single film as the greatest depiction of sociopathic behavior displayed in a member of the fairer sex, it would be the French-UK coproduction Mademoiselle (1966) directed by British auteur Tony Richardson (The Loved One, The Hotel New Hampshire) and starring Jeanne Moreau (Jules et Jim, Diary of a Chambermaid) as a sexually repressed femme fatale from rural frog hell whose propensity for arson and other forms of rural terrorism make for a rather melodramatic substitute for good old fashion coitus. Based on a script entitled Les Rêves Interdits/L'Autre Versant du Rêve by French sodomite thief novelist Jean Genet, who originally gave the screenplay as a wedding gift to French actress Anouk Aimée (who married Nico Papatakis and who Genet served as his “best man”) in 1951 but ultimately sold the script three times without telling Aimée, Mademoiselle was later reworked by French writer/director Marguerite Duras (Les enfants, Nathalie Granger) and had a number of different filmmakers set to direct it, including Georges Franju and Joseph Losey, though Tony Richardson ultimately proved to be an apt auteur. Out of all places, I discovered Mademoiselle while reading the excellent Andy Milligan biography The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan (2003) by Jimmy McDonough, which the gutter auteur, who himself directed Genet theater adaptations during his pre-film off-off-Broadway days, described as follows, “MADEMOISELLE. THE SICKEST THING YOU EVER SAW. Stuff like that impressed me.” On top of impressing real-life psychopathic sadomasochist Andy Milligan, Mademoiselle is also apparently a personal favorite of John Waters, yet despite being a fairly mainstream production, the film is fairly forgotten today, which is probably not a surprise considering it was a commercial and critical failure of sorts that was booed at its premiere at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, though the work rightfully won a BAFTA award and was featured in a 2007 Brooklyn Academy of Music French film retrospective. Part morbid and melancholy melodrama, part psychosexual/psychoanalytic horror-thriller, and part anti-redneck/anti-heimat lynch mob flick, Mademoiselle follows a beauteous yet psychopathic school teacher of the dangerously virginal variety with a pernicious proclivity towards committing atrocities around her small village who develops an undying erotic obsession with an Italian immigrant logger that inevitably results in tragedy.
Mademoiselle (Jeanne Moreau) is an undetected psychopath whom, with her cutesy good looks and job as the village schoolmarm, no one in the town suspects of the arson attacks that have plagued their rural village, but who is in fact considered an upstanding citizen who is sexually desired by every living and breathing man in the area. Considering she opens the floodgates that ravage the village and its farm animals during the first couple minutes of the film and subsequently smashes a couple bird eggs and puts them back in the nest with a certain sadistic glee, Mademoiselle immediately establishes her complete and utter lack of conscience right from the get go of Mademoiselle. Of course, Mademoiselle has a hard time totally hiding her sociopathy in front of the villagers at all times, as she uses her respected job as a school teacher to torment children, namely an Italian immigrant boy named Bruno (Keith Skinner), whom she mocks for his poverty and shabby clothing. Of course, a strange situation brews when Mademoiselle becomes infatuated with Bruno’s widowed logger father Manou (played by Ettore Manni in a role originally given to Marlon Brando). In part, it seems one of the reasons that Mademoiselle lights fires is that she gets wet from martially masculine Manou putting them out. Not surprisingly, the redneck villagers instantly start suspecting Manou of committing the crimes as the locals feel there are “too many foreigners” in town, even causing one local yokel to complain that, “One of them is carrying the Holy Virgin today” during a medieval-like church procession in a field. Meanwhile, Mademoiselle continues to torment little boy Bruno so bad that he flips out and beats a cute little bunny rabbit to death in a fierce fit of rage. Considering Mademoiselle lurks around the woods and spies on the Italian logger as he works, Manou eventually approaches her and even tries to seduce her a number of times, but she is far too cold and callous to reciprocate her feelings, though she clearly wants to yet lacks the intstincts. On top of that, Mademoiselle is into self-flagellation and does rather bizarre things like putting tape over her nipples and fanatically declaring the saintliness of Joan of Arc to her pupils while in a megalomaniacal state as if she were a nefarious nun from hell. While his son Bruno is quick to realize that Mademoiselle is a certified psychopath with her own personal scorched earth policy, Manou, being the typical horndog Guido with a reckless weakness for pulchritudinous ladies, is totally ignorant of his would-be-lover’s lack of sanity. After a lovely night together where the two lovebirds spend an entire night flirting with one other in a strangely innocent and even heartwarming manner, Manou reveals to Mademoiselle that he and his son are moving back to Italy, so the lovelorn sociopathic schoolteacher falsely denounces the proletarian stud for her cruel crimes, thus resulting in his brutal death via a gang of hostile hicks who hack him up and cover up their dastardly deeds. In the end, Mademoiselle leaves the village totally unscathed with Bruno, who is now orphaned, being the only one who knew of the beauteous bitch’s true character, even spitting in her direction in decided disdain when she leaves.
Apparently making a number of references to writer Jean Genet’s childhood village of Alligny-en-Morvan (a place that had a whopping population of 735 citizens in 1962) in central France, Mademoiselle is undoubtedly an unflattering portrait of the French rural peasantry that echoes the hick-hating sentiments of films by Claude Chabrol, but also has much in common with the anti-heimat films of German New Cinema like Hunting Scenes From Bavaria (1969) aka Jagdszenen aus Niederbayern directed by Peter Fleischmann and Hollywood flicks like Deliverance (1972) directed by John Boorman, but what makes Tony Richardson’s film a strikingly singular and unforgettable film is its rare ‘völkisch-noir’ depiction of a superficially ‘angelic’ schoolteacher as a sort of lethal human black widow who conspiratorially lures strong men in and destroys them when they are at their most vulnerable, thus the cinematic work will not exactly be a favorite among feminists. As a fan of most cinematic adaptations of Jean Genet’s writings, I have no problem admitting that Mademoiselle is easily one of my favorite films penned by the literary outlaw, even if Marguerite Duras probably molested the original story, thereupon bastardizing its original essence to a most deplorable degree. Notably, Mademoiselle lead Jeanne Moreau would later go on to appear in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film Querelle (1982), a campy cinematic adaption of Genet’s 1947 novel Querelle de Brest, though her performance in Richardson’s film is infinitely memorably monstrous. A psychosexually perverse cinematic parable of sorts featuring a variety of erotically-charged allegorical imagery (a snake wrapped around Manou’s waist over his genitals, etc.) that quasi-blasphemously blames sexual repression for the literal and figurative ‘fall of man’ (or in this case, the fall of a man), Mademoiselle is macabre melodrama at its most cruelly cockblocked and exquisitely anticlimactic.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:49 PM
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