“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer: What do women want?” Sigmund Freud.
More pertinently for our present purpose, what did Jeanne Moreau want? The Queen of 1960s European Arthouse Cinema drew a flotilla of moths to her flame… Tony Richardson left his wife (a certain Vanessa Redgrave) for Moreau (whom he directed in Mademoiselle, 1966) and Joseph Losey might or might not have consummated his crush on her (his son Gavrik is undecided) though he got his wings badly singed during the postproduction of Eve (1962). What, exactly, did he expect, tackling the story of Man’s fall from grace at the hands of Woman?
In Losey’s film Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) is your basic angry young boyo, a hard living Dylan Thomas type who’s graduated from the Pits of his homeland to La Dolce Vita in Italy, where his novel Stranger In Hell has been adapted into a film that’s taking the Venice Film Festival by storm. Tyvian and the film’s director Sergio Branco (Giorgio Albertazzi) pound the publicity treadmill together, barely concealing their loathing for each other. Branco’s in love with his personal assistant Francesca (Virna Lisi), but she’s besotted with Tyvian, who strings her along while pursuing his own fascination with the manipulative playgirl Eve Olivier (Moreau), a conniving fortune chaser who spends the rare moments she’s not gold digging listening to Billie Holiday and reading her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues (a consummate Artist, Holliday presents, perhaps, not the greatest role model in life… ask Amy Winehouse). “Do you know how much this weekend will cost me?” Tyvian asks Eve one point. “Do you know how much it will cost you?” comes the pointed response.
As well as believing the author to be a cad, Branco has his suspicions about Tyvian’s back story. Indeed, the latter confesses to Moreau that he’s not actually an ex miner, also that, for A Dylan Thomas wannabe, he doesn’t drink very much. It is, however, during a particularly epic session of soaking it up that he makes his really big confession to her: the reason he’s finding it difficult to come up with the follow up script Branco’s bugging him for is that he’s not actually much of a writer, either, having copped the manuscript of Stranger In Hell from his dead brother! Shades of Udo Kier’s character in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (1976). The resolution here is nothing like as lurid as that to Clarke’s “video nasty” but certainly makes for high octane dramatic stuff.
Losey, who was never shy about ‘fessing up to his misfires, believed his original 155 minute cut of Eve (which producers Robert and Raymond Hakim pulled, ironically enough, from the Venice Film Festival and which is now irretrievably lost) to be not just his best film, but one the greatest films ever made. We’ll never know, the longest of the four (!) versions curated here clocking in a good half an hour shorter than the director’s preferred cut. We can thrill to the committed performances of the principals, admire the beautiful black and white photography of Gianni Di Venanzo and (the uncredited) Henri Decaë, ditto Michel Legrand’s cool jazzy score (Losey had wanted Miles Davis) but Eve, as originally envisaged by its director, remains as tantalisingly elusive as Moreau’s character herself, to paraphrase the great Hoagy Carmichael: “the stardust of yesterday / the celluloid of years gone by”.
By one account the Hakims had been hoping for some kind of two-fisted Noir effort (Eve is an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel, after all) and their attempts to salvage something remotely approximating such a thing led to the film’s death by a thousand cuts. Alternatively, we hear that they were going for Arthouse from the get go and originally lined up Jean Luc Godard to direct Richard Burton in the Jones role, settling for Baker when that fell through and accepting the actor’s recommendation of his peripatetic mate Losey to direct. You pays your money and you takes your choice…
Liar, thief, braggart, big head, waster of life and love, Jonesy probably had it coming but what did the population of a small French village ever do to deserve the full force malignity of Moreau’s crackers character in Richardson’s film? It was adapted from a story by Jean Genet, so there’s a clue…
Mademoiselle (brilliantly shot, again in black and white, by the great David Watkin) opens with a Catholic rite which is at root no more than an attempt to propitiate the random violence of nature. Meanwhile the local schoolteacher / town secretary (Moreau) is opening the sluice gates that will flood the local farms. She’s already perpetrated several arson attacks and will continue to do so. She also does her best to stoke the fires of suspicion, already smouldering away, against itinerant Italian logger Manou (Ettore Manni) who doesn’t exactly do himself any PR favours by bedding most of the villager’s wives. Mademoiselle makes a point of singling out Manou’s son Bruno (Keith Skinner) for punishment and ridicule in the classroom, when she can bring herself to take time out from teaching the kids about Gilles de Rais. In her spare time she visits petty cruelty upon animals.
So what’s her problem? Flashbacks reveal that the frustrated spinster set her first haystack alight when stalking Manou. He looked so hunky helping to put the fire out that she’s had to restage the experience. Meanwhile her bitterness festers as she watches him bonking his way through half the female population. She ultimately enjoys her own (protracted) session in the fields with him, encouraging the viewer to believe that she might be capable of some kind of redemption… but nah, this is Genet, remember and the proceedings climax and close on a note of unalloyed nihilism, with chumps barely evolved from chimps revering their palpably evil “social superiors” and scapegoating “outsiders”. The comment on Vichy France is clear enough but it’s an observation that still rings depressingly true, as a cursory glance at todays News headlines will readily confirm.
Neither of these films is likely to increase your optimism about the prospects for the human race, in the unlikely event that you still entertained any after the events of the last few years.
Eve bonus features. Aside from the four (count ’em) cuts of the film on Indicator’s limited edition BD world premiere (including a new 2K scan of EYE Filmmuseum’s photochemical restoration of the longest variant), you also get archival interviews with Losey and Moreau and a new one in which Gavrick Losey speculates about his fathers’ mental orientation while making the picture. Neil Sinyard (rapidly emerging as a supplementaries superstar) details Eve’s troubled (nay, tormented) post production and attempts manfully to fill in some of the gaps. In a BEHP audio interview, Reginald Beck talks of the films he edited for Losey. The expected trailers and image galleries are present and correct and if you buy one of the first 3,000 units you’ll enjoy a 36-page collectors’ booklet including Losey on Eve, new essays, an assessment of James Hadley Chase’s source novel, full film credits and contemporary critical responses, plus an account of the EYE Filmmuseum restoration.
The BFI’s beautiful HD presentation of Mademoiselle is complimented by an optional commentary track from Adrian Martin… in a recent interview (so very recent that he refers to “the late Alan Parker”) former child actor Keith Skinner (he was also in Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet, two years after Mademoiselle) recalls his experiences on the shoot and relates how he reinvented himself as a respected Ripperologist… among the bonus materials on this release we also find Jan Worth’s ultra-rare 1982 feature Doll’s Eye (1982), a film commissioned by the BFI but never released, which focusses on three different women trying to make their way in a world dominated by male attitudes. Two of the three are played by Bernice Stegers (from Xtro and Lamberto Bava’s masterly Macabro) and the late Sandy Ratcliff (from Eastenders). There’s the expected trailer and image gallery, while the first pressing will also include an illustrated collectors’ booklet with Jon Dear’s take on Mademoiselle, Neil Young on Richardson’s production company Woodfall, Jan Worth’s remembrance of Doll’s Eye, full credits for both that and the main feature, plus Scala legend Jane Giles on cinematic adaptations of Genet.