Tony Richardson was one of the biggest British directors of the late ’50s and ’60s, with films such as Look Back in Anger, A Taste of Honey and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. These films kicked off the British New Wave of the ’60s, or Kitchen Sink Realism, whatever you want to call it. Mademoiselle is one of the films Richardson made in the late ’60s as he tried to spread his wings beyond the films whose style he was known for. He had already made Tom Jones, which won him Best Director at the Oscars and scooped Best Picture that night as well, although it’s retrospectively considered one of the worst films to ever win. He beat Federico Fellini for 8½ in the director competition—if that had been nominated for Best Picture, it quite possibility could’ve won and done for the Oscars what was unthinkable until Parasite.
The French gay outlaw writer Jean Genet supplied the source story for Mademoiselle. I can’t find much more about its origins, except that it was originally called Les Rêves interdits, ou L’autre versant du rêve (Forbidden Dreams or The Other Side of Dreams), and was written and maybe published in 1952. It could have been a treatment of some kind—besides being a infamous criminal, novelist, poet and playwright, Genet did dabble in filmmaking back in 1950, with Un Chant d’Amour. BFI re-released that film on DVD, I think they lost the rights to it at some point because otherwise it would’ve been an ideal bonus on the Mademoiselle disc. The final screenplay for this film was written by Marguerite Duras, who was a very well-regarded novelist and filmmaker in her own right.
Mademoiselle sounds vaguely interesting on paper, with Jeanne Moreau as an undetected sociopath who floods the village and poisons people, while outwardly being just the visiting schoolteacher in the small French village where the action takes place. The problem is that despite the scandalous nature of the plot, it’s a total bore of a film, Essentially, it’s Richardson trying to make a French New Wave film and failing miserably. The pacing is totally off, and it’s trying to be all arty where the smarter take on the material would have been to play up thriller/horror elements. There are overly long scenes where Moreau and the prime suspect for these local disasters, a rough-edged lumberjack played by Ettore Manni, have encounters in the forest that are full of sexual tension between the two.
Moreau does her absolutely best with the material and direction, but this is a far cry from her many great on-screen performances. The film simply didn’t hold must interest for me, but I may have just been in the wrong mood for it, and others who read this might be entranced by the finished film. The extras include audio commentary by Adrian Martin, and Doll’s Eye, a rare and never-before-released BFI Production Board film directed by Jan Worth. Also included is an interview with Keith Skinner, who discusses his work on the film, plus an image gallery and the original theatrical trailer. The book includes essays on the film Jon Dear and Neil Young, one on Genet by Jane Giles and finally another on Doll’s Eye by Jan Worth.