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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Mademoiselle - Mademoiselle( Blu Ray & DVD) [BFI - 2020]

Mademoiselle is a grimly-toned at times cruel, yet elegantly shot psychological drama from the mid-1960ís. The film touches on distrust of outsiders, smouldering mental illness under a cloak of normality, and kinky carnal desires. Itís certainly a difficult, at times unsettling film- due to both itís moments of animal cruelty, and its focus on unpleasant human bigotry - but itís very moodily shot, well-acted, and the feeling of unease-ness & grim passion drifts throughout the film like traces of oil on water. From the BFI here we have a dual format- Blu Ray & DVD release of the film, bringing togeather high & standard definition prints, a new commentary, and a few other extras.

Appearing in 1966 Mademoiselle was a British/ French co-production. It was the 8th feature-length film from versatile British filmmaker Tony Richardson, who went from helming edgy British TV drama in the mid-to-late í50s, onto varied feature-length films such 1961ís pregnant teen drama A Taste Of Honey, 1963ís period adventure comedy Tom Jones, and 1969ís Big screen version of Shakespeare's Hamlet- he continued into the í70s & 80ís directing subject/ genre varied film- making him one of Britainís most respected filmmakers. Mademoiselle is wonderfully captured in black & white - this highlights both dramaticĖto- moody French countryside, and the shifting emotions & inner turmoil of the film's characters.

The film is set in a small rural village in the then present-day France- it has many farms, and is surrounded by large sways of woodland. Recently someone has been cause malicious chaos- setting fires, flooding farms & more- but from the off we the audience are let in on whose behind whatís going on- as the film opens shifting between a religious led march through the farmland, and a black net gloved Woman winching up the dam- so the village will once again flood. After this is done she makes her way back home, along the way crushing birds eggs & making a blossom crown- she changes/ hides her shoes & goes out to watch the chaos, which includes drowning & panicking farm animals. Fairly soon we find out the woman is Mademoiselle(Jeanne Moreau)- a fairly recently arrived & respected school teacher- who hides well her mental illness, sadism, and perverse lust. The villages think that the culprit is Manou(Ettore Manni) an Italian who has arrived at the village with his son, and friend to cut wood on the outskirts of town. And as the attacks increases- with animal barn fires & poisoning of the cattle water- the town gets even more convinced- even though Manou is a centre of trying to help after each attack- saving stock & putting his own life on the line. As well as carrying out the attacks Mademoiselle is also taking every opportunity to belittle & put down Manou's son- whom she teachers in the school. It becomes clear that the on the surface prim & proper Mademoiselle is lusting after Manou- and as the film moves towards itís decidedly grim & disturbing climax, the pair spend a consensual-yet-kinky time making love in the villages surrounding nature, as dark comes in, and thunder & rain storm lashes.

The film unfolds at a fairly even pace- through from time-to-time it flirts with more art house moments/ pacing. It has no formal soundtrack, which gives the whole thing  a documentary vibe; equally the film purely uses set & unmoving framed shots. The whole film slow-but-surely builds up tension- with the village's animosity to the stranger and Mademoiselle subtle cruel and unbalanced behaviour- so it does work well as a moody & unsettling psychological drama/ character study. The only real contentious issue with the film is the uncalled for/ unneeded animal cruelty- it starts with footage of various farm animals struggling & panicking in  the flood, with shortly after the still alive animals been dragged off by the village people. And as the film goes on it carries on- with the most unpleasant/ uncalled for moment been when a rabbit is battered to death-as I animal lover myself I found this element did rather taint the film, and it will most certainly get some turning off- so do be warned.

Moving onto this new Blu Ray/ DVD presentation of the film- and new scan is wonderfully well defined & balanced in itís crisp and clear black & white- making it a real pleasure to watch. On the extras side- firstly we get a commentary track from Australian film critic/ scholar Adrian Martin. This is most worthy, as itís a good balance of very well researched background & his personal take/ option on the picture- he begins by using a quote from Jean Genet who wrote the film's original story, moving onto talk about the firm rules the film had- set frames, no formal score, and post-production sound design. As he moves on he talks about the around 15 years it took to get the film into production, and the other directors connected to the project. He goes onto talk about the film's key characters, the grim tone of the film, itís symbolism, and much more- certainly a commentary you could play a few times.
Next, we get a thirty-six-minute on-screen interview with Keith Skinner- who played Bruno, the son of the woodcutter- this is really well put together, as he kept all of his clippings & paperwork relating to his time on the film- taking in his script, casting call photos, and stub for the premier which pop-up though-out the interview. He starts by talking about how he first got into acting as an extra on The Beatles film A Hard Days Night, and how this got his foot in the door for an audition for Mademoiselle. He moves onto his memories of been on set & working with the other actors, before talking about the aftermath of the film- and feeling a little deflated having to go back to school, and the largely bad press the picture got when it first came out- again very worth a watch.
The last extra we get is another feature-length film Doll's Eye- this is from 1982, and runs 75 minutes. Itís a never before released BFI board film production- that has been rarely shown. The film was directed by Jan Worth, who had one other directorial credit to her name 1979ís Taking a Part- which found a group of women talking about their lives, thoughts, and aspirations. Doll Eyes takes its name from a type of telephone switchboard- and gives snapshots of three women living in London- a researcher, a prostitute, and a switchboard operator, with over the top recordings of men talking about women's roles, prostitutes, and what sex means to them. The films visually an interesting enough trip back to 1980ís London- but the flow of the women's stories is a little muddled, and the constant dropping in & out the men's interview largely takes away from their stories. It was an interesting one watch, and itís good to see BFI digging into the vaults to put out films like this.


So in finishing Mademoiselle is certainly worth a look if you enjoy slightly arty psychological dramas- but do be aware of the animal cruelty issue. Once again the BFI has done a classy job of this duel format presentation, with a nice new scan & some most worthy extras.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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