Cinema Reborn at the Queer Screen Mardi Gras Film Festival – A Special Presentation of Jacqueline Audry’s OLIVIA (France, 1951)

Audry
Jacqueline Audry

This review by Eloise Ross was originally published in Senses of Cinema’s Melbourne Cinematheque Annotations on Film. Grateful thanks to Eloise for permission to republish.

Tickets to this session and other info about the festival can be found at https://tix.queerscreen.org.au/Events/Olivia

Published pseudonymously in 1949 under the author name ‘Olivia’, Dorothy Bussy’s novel Olivia was likely written thanks to the influence of the 1931 German film Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform, Leontine Sagan). The film version, Olivia (Jacqueline Audry, 1951), was made from an adapted screenplay by the director’s sister, Colette Audry, and this trifecta of female authors is meaningful as their feeling resonates through the text. Olivia traces a similar track to the German film, taking place at a girls’ finishing school outside of Paris run by two headmistresses, Julie (Edwige Feuillère) and Cara (Simone Simon), who are each favoured by factions amongst the students. Jacqueline Audry worked with Max Ophuls in her early career in the film industry, and an influence from the older director can be sensed in her attention to the fascinations of a young woman, and her film’s fascination with the windows, staircase, and hidden spaces of a house. Apparently, Ophuls had wanted to make Audry’s earlier adaptation Gigi (1949), which also focuses on the passionate yearning of an adolescent girl.
Olivia

Audry’s films are part of a sophisticated period of filmmaking in France, one that saw a wealth of literary adaptations and period films, with intricate characters and camerawork supported by dialogue. This may be a reason for her lack of recognition amongst critics and historians; her work was considered too traditional, lacking creativity and vision, and was disrupted by the irreverence of the French New Wave. But she is set apart by “her consistent interest in transgressive women figures”, something for which she should be praised, with note taken of her relationships with women in her life such as her mother and sister – who was close with Simone de Beauvoir – and also her connection with the professional work of the great early 20th century writer Colette. (As Carrie Tarr notes, Audry’s works are often shown in homage to Colette rather than as part of a focus on the director herself, as shown for instance with Il Cinema Ritrovato’s retrospective in 2017.) In some ways, perhaps Audry was as transgressive as many of her heroines, and tragically held back by a variation on this same conventional narrative – a woman forced to struggle for her own recognition.

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While Julie and Cara vie for the students’ affections – Julie by taking advantage of her physical proximity to them, and Cara from the confines of her bedroom, afflicted by a real or imagined illness – they also vie for each other’s. Theirs seems like a relationship that may have existed prior to the film’s temporal spotlight, but was discontinued due to societal restrictions or the complications of desire – and in this space of doubt, Audry and her actors insert a great intensity. The staircase becomes a central element of the school and its entanglements, a place from which girls would observe others, or on which they would perform for others at the school. It is circular, snaking around the walls of the school’s antechamber, a link between the classrooms and the bedrooms of the girls, and leading, too, to Julie and Cara’s boudoirs. The camera, which often circles or moves freely through the building’s spaces and amongst its residents, has a sensual openness that aligns with the freedom given to the girls at the school.

When Olivia (Marie-Claire Olivia) first arrives at the school, she is greeted by Mademoiselle Julie; both characters are placed within the doorframe, the interior behind them bustling with schoolgirl activity. Thus, from this early moment, Olivia is separated from her peers, and her individual fascination with the school is differentiated from her alliance with the headmistresses. Later, Olivia flushes over the symptoms of desperate love and adoration to a friend, as though not recognising what they are signs of. Julie tells Olivia that she is too passionate, and yet cannot entirely hide that she is drawn to the student. Her intentions remain restrained, mysterious, and both women may be manipulative, but neither she nor Cara’s actions are seen as outright perverse; their behavior, instead, is tinged with sadness as they each abandon what they love. These are all moments that betray a confusion in the characters, suggesting that something so simple as a need for comfort is out of reach in their society.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster includes Olivia in a genre she refers to as “lesbian soft-core, girls’-school films”, within which she also includes Mädchen in Uniform and The Wild Party (Dorothy Arzner, 1929) as films that deal with the very specific scenario of female bonding. Given that Audry was often criticised, or at least, like Arzner, left out of the spotlight for her adherence to conventional narrative and storytelling practices, it may be hard for some historians to consider her feminist. Yet perhaps it should emphasised that, as she was introducing non-traditional perspectives – including, for instance, those of cooks and service women in the school – into an otherwise classical format, she was in fact being more subversive than she’s given credit for. As Tarr writes, “Olivia’s discovery of love and desire is thus never experienced through feelings of guilt and shame, though it is accompanied by a realisation that such knowledge cannot be trusted to outsiders.” Her private moments shared with Julie are thus framed as extensions of the first moment they met, alone against a backdrop of students whose interests, although also directed towards the headmistresses, are much less intense.

There are almost no male characters in the film, and when on screen they are not privileged in the frame; seen only from behind, or in profile at some distance, they appear to enforce law from the outside world, with no interest in the minutiae of life inside the school. Their disinterest in the experience of the school, of the feelings and statements of women and girls as individuals and as a group, is symbolic of much of women’s suffering in a world in which women are treated as lesser than men and a hindrance to patriarchal order. This final appearance of a structure of male sensibility, presented without the male gaze, highlights further the misunderstanding amongst men and women; there are occurrences at the school that these men do not comprehend, and their attempts to present some solution render them all but useless.

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In the United States, Olivia was released as The Pit of Loneliness, attributing to it some greater sense of melodrama than was contained in the film, and thus aligning it with a number of other Hollywood pictures about isolated women, like The Snake Pit (Anatole Litvak, 1948). But Olivia has a lasting power and uniqueness, as much due to its classical French origins as in spite of them. That the actress playing the title role was prompted to change her name to Marie-Claire Olivia was perhaps due to the powerful sensuality of the script and of her interactions with Feuillère and Simon on screen. Whether or not you interpret Olivia as condemning lesbian desire, Audry’s film manages to explore complexities and subtleties in how women act in their relationships and in their professional spaces, precisely by allowing them an unresolvable ambiguity.

 

 

Cinema Reborn 2020 – First Announcement

 

Ernst Lubitsch2A
Ernst Lubitsch

 

Cinema Reborn 2020

The Organising Committee of Cinema Reborn announced today that the 2020 season will take place at the Randwick Ritz cinema from Thursday 30 April to Sunday 3 May.

Cinema Reborn began in 2018 and is dedicated to presenting digital restorations of classic cinema from around the world. The festival has now become part of an ever-growing circuit of film events devoted to showcasing the restoration work of the world’s major production companies and international film archives.

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Ida Lupino

Program

Highlights of the previous Cinema Reborn programs included Memories of Underdevelopment(Tomás Gutiérrez Alea), Yol–The Full Version (Yilmaz Güney), Wanda(Barbara Loden), Sons of Matthew(Charles Chauvel), A Matter of Life and Death(Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray), Sans Lendemain (Max Ophuls), The Crime of M. Lange (Jean Renoir), One From the Heart(Francis Ford Coppola), Woman on the Run(Norman Foster), People of the Australian Western Desert(Ian Dunlop), Between Wars(Michael Thornhill), In a Year of 13 Moons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and The Night of Counting the Years(Shadi Abdel Salam) .

Cinema Reborn 2020 will present a program of eleven films over four days.  The full program will be announced in February 2020.

Bunuel
Luis Bunuel

Venue – The Randwick Ritz

Cinema Reborn is especially pleased that for a second year the event will take place at Randwick’s iconic art deco Ritz Cinema, a venue with state of the art projection equipment and one of the few remaining theatres in Sydney able to screen both digital copies and 35mm.

Cinema Reborn once again appreciates the support of the dedicated staff of the Ritz.

Eddie Tamir, the proprietor of The Ritz and of Melbourne’s Classic, Lido and Cameo cinemas has indicated his continuing enthusiasm for the project and commented: “We love having the greatest films of the past playing alongside the best films of today.”

Federico-Fellini
Federico Fellini

Subscription Ticketing

To assist our patrons and supporters to enjoy the event to the maximum, in Cinema Reborn 2020 will offer the opportunity to purchase a dedicated budget-priced subscription ticket which will admit to all screenings.

Charitable Donations

Cinema Reborn is greatly assisted by charitable donations and a dedicated fund will again be set up to accept tax-deductible gifts from donors. Donations are accepted throughout the year from those not seeking tax deductibility and parties interested in donating, supporting screenings or offering sponsorship of any kind should contact the festival directly at the contact points below.

Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder

Interstate Venues

Negotiations are underway to present Cinema Reborn 2020 at interstate venues and there will be further announcements when these details have been settled.

For further information:

Contact

Geoff Gardner

Chair, Organising Committee

CINEMA REBORN

Email: filmalert101@gmail.com

Ph: 0416 912 567

The Presentations (7) – Jason Di Rosso introduces LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN/LA FORTUNE DI ESSERE DONNA (Alessandro Blasetti, Italy, 1956)

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Jason Di Rosso

Lucky to be a Woman/ La Fortuna di Essere Donna is one of the earliest films to feature the iconic always electric pairing of Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. It is directed by Alessandro Blasetti, who had in fact first put the two together in his film Too Bad She’s Bad/Peccato che sia una canaglia), which came out two years earlier in 1954, and also saw Loren playing a quick witted schemer.

This is a film from a very versatile director who skipped across genres, and in fact was already a veteran in the 1950s, having established himself during the fascist ventennio, or two-decade long dictatorship.

It’s depiction of the cynical world of tabloid journalism is strikingly ambivalent. And this ambivalence is demonstrated through Loren’s very modern character, who, as a poor but ambitious and beautiful young woman in a country still struggling, given that it was barely 10 years since the end of a devastating war, is both the subject of exploitation but also quite capable of taking advantage of those who seek to exploit her.

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By the mid 1950s neo-realism was morphing into more populist films like this one, a trend or genre dubbed “pink neorealism or neorealismo rosa”, a precursor to the commedia all’italiana.

The critic Andrea Bini in his book, Male Anxiety and Psychopathology in Film: Comedy Italian Style, points out the difference between pink neorealism and the commedia all’italiana using this film as an example, saying that as a pink neorealism it tends towards a redemptive arc, a celebration and re-assertion of domesticity, humble values, while the com media all’italiana would reflect a more jaded vision, with characters whose desires know no limitations.

That said, this film is of course an interesting precursor to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, given Mastroianni plays a paparazzo in this film who hangs around the Roman social set and peddles scandal, gossip and soft porn. The screenplay is written by a woman and two men, giants of Italian screenwriting, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, along with Sandro Continenza and Ennio Flaiano ( who co-wrote La Dolce Vita)…

And a final connection with Fellini’s film Lucky to be a Woman was shot by La Dolce Vita‘s cinematographer Otello Martelli…

Lucky to be a Woman is not a film of grand or showy cinematic gestures, it’s underpinned by a solid level of craft across the board – from the grips operating the dollies to the screenwriters – this is a very good example of what the Cinecitta hit machine could produce in the post war years. Films like this are the lifeblood of a national cinema at its most populist and engaging. An effervescent, bold and socially critical comedy, with breathtaking on screen chemistry between two leads who would go on to be major international stars.

Friday 3 May 2019

Jason Di Rosso is ABC Radio National’s film and TV critic and reviewer across a range of RN shows. He was previously the host of the weekly film show The Final Cut. Before becoming RN’s chief film specialist, Jason spent six years as associate producer and reviewer on RN’s Movietime.

His background in film goes back to the 90s, when he completed a degree in communications at Perth’s Curtin University. He tried his hand as a production runner but then began to slowly drift from film to radio, and started making features for RN. Since returning to film, by way of radio, he has interviewed some of cinema’s most important talents, from Isabelle Huppert to Mike Leigh.

Outside the ABC, his writing on film and popular culture has appeared in GQ magazine and The Australian. He has participated in public discussions and delivered presentations in a wide variety of forums, including films festivals and universities across Australia. He is currently a doctoral candidate in film at the University of Technology Sydney.

Alongside presenting ABC RN’s The Screen Hub since 2018 he has hosted Screen Sounds on ABC Classic FM.