Tony Richardson (director)
104 min (length)
21 September 2020 (released)
25 September 2020
This 1966 Woodfall production from Tony Richardson is poles apart from the kind of kitchen sink dramas Richardson's company was normally associated with at the time. MADEMOISELLE – starring the irrepressible Jeanne Moreau – is based on a short story by the controversial Jean Genet who started work on the screenplay though it was eventually completed by the equally controversial French novelist and playwright Marguerite Duras.
Not that this rather unusual film is in itself in anyway controversial but that, one supposes, is a matter of conjecture. It appears Richardson had for sometime wanted to make a film of Genet's short story - quite why is another matter; perhaps a latent fascination for leading actress Jean Moreau (he later left Vanessa Redgrave for her) is the reason.
All of the action takes place in a little French village and most of the cast is French. It begins with Mademoiselle (Moreau) unlocking the floodgates to bring havoc upon the village which is basically an impoverished tiny hamlet consisting of a number of farms. Despite the villagers being able to rescue most of the livestock the woman’s deed causes utter devastation (this scene could not have been easy to shoot and cameraman David Watkin does an estimable job). In an earlier scene we also witness how Mademoiselle squashes the eggs in a birds nest and then places the broken shells back in the nest again - quite why she does all this we don't yet know - is it just because she inherently evil? Or is there another, deep-rooted reason? Fortunately heroic Italian woodcutter Manou (Ettore Manni), a seasonal worker, is at hand and it’s thanks to him that even more tragedy is avoided. His efforts, however, are not appreciated and both he and fellow Italian woodcutter Antonio (Umberto Orsini) are disliked and distrusted by the local community on account of them being ‘foreign’. It might also be added that Manou – who looks after a young boy named Bruno (Keith Skinner – the only English actor in this production) who is the son of a deceased ex-girlfriend of his - has already seduced a number of the village women.
As for Mademoiselle, she is in effect a supply teacher and is not destined to be in the village for long - but she is destined to make her mark and a pretty terrible one it will be. She simply cannot stop herself and continues to cause absolute havoc… Her next act of destruction is to cause a massive fire simply by chucking a burning sheet of paper on a haystack next to a farmhouse… and so it goes on. At the school where she teaches one of her pupils is the unfortunate Bruno who is clearly not loved by Manou. She initially treats this poor little sod harshly as a result of his shabby clothes. Hard-nosed Manou, who is not above slapping the boy around, wont buy him a pair of long trousers and he often attempts to borrow Manou’s trousers (“only one person wears the trousers in that cottage”). In one of the film’s most disturbing scenes Bruno walks out of the classroom after a heated argument with Mademoiselle and in a fit of rage smashes a little rabbit, which he had hidden in his jacket pocket, repeatedly over a block of wood. Let’s hope it wasn’t a real rabbit!
Mademoiselle also has the mad hots for Manou; is this unrequited passion the reason for her reckless behaviour? Actually it isn't (as hinted previously). Meanwhile Antonio is badly beaten up by the local police as they continue to suspect the woodcutters - only the unfortunate Bruno suspects Mademoiselle - he actually finds the remnant of the burnt piece of paper near the barn and puts two and two together. After this Mademoiselle is somewhat more kindly disposed toward him and even gives him extra curricular lessons. After several more attempts Mademoiselle secretly succeeds in seducing Manou though their love play appears to be of a sado-masochistic nature – with Mademoiselle licking Manou’s boots (while he laughs his head off) and kneeling like a whimpering dog in front of him – it’s all quite offensive from a feminist viewpoint. The film has an unsuspected and horrifically bloody climax brought about by Mademoiselle's unpredictable behaviour. At the end Mademoiselle is driven away in a taxi after the school closes for the summer holidays while Bruno (who spits at her from afar) and Antonio drift off to the next village seeking work.
This stark b/w film is heavy on symbolism and offers next to no explanation as to Mademoiselle’s actions. Moreau’s performance nevertheless is a worthy one and Keith Skinner (nowadays predominantly known as an expert on Jack The Ripper) is just as impressive in his debut role though his character’s killing of the rabbit may prevent his getting more sympathy from the viewers. There is no soundtrack and the monochrome picture no doubt gives this oddity even more resonance. You can see why Richardson originally wanted Brando for the machismo male lead.
• Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
* Newly commissioned feature-length audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
* Doll’s Eye (1982, 75 mins): making its home video debut, this gritty, powerful BFI Production Board feature from director Jan Worth incisively examines contradictory male attitudes towards women in 1980s Britain.
* Keith Skinner: Remembering Mademoiselle (2020, 36 mins): the actor and historian discusses his work on the film
* Image gallery
* Original theatrical trailer
***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** illustrated booklet with new writing on the film by Jon Dear and Neil Young. Also includes writing on Jean Genet (who wrote the screenplay) by Jane Giles and an essay by Jan Worth on Doll’s Eye.