Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Mademoiselle" (1966) starring Jeanne Moreau, directed by Tony Richardson


In Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1968), Jeanne Moreau portrayed a woman driven to kill by the reckless accidental shooting of her new husband. In that film, one of Truffaut’s Hitchcockian exercises, her character relentlessly pursues revenge, methodically seeking out and taking out the men responsible for her groom’s death. Two years earlier, in Tony Richardson’s Mademoiselle (1966), Moreau took on a similar but different sort of angel-of-death role. In this film the character is more sinister, her motives less clear and far more ominous.
Jeanne Moreau as "Mademoiselle"
San Francisco’s fourth French film noir festival, The French Had a Name for It 4, at the Roxie Theater from Friday November 3 through Monday November 6, closes with an homage to the incomparable Moreau, who passed away on July 31 at age 89.  The program for the final night of noir begins with The Strange Mr. Steve (1957), featuring Moreau as a gangster’s moll. The last film on the last night of the program is Mademoiselle.

In Mademoiselle, Moreau is a repressed school teacher in a provincial French village who oversees a classroom during working hours and sneaks about in her high heels after school, wreaking havoc on the town, setting fires, triggering floods, poisoning livestock. She secretly lusts after a handsome Italian lumberjack who works locally and whose son she mercilessly bullies at school. But Moreau’s character is a respected figure in the community, and an innocent man becomes the prime suspect for her crimes. Only one person, the lumberjack’s son, knows the truth of mademoiselle’s dark nature.

Based on a story by Jean Genet later adapted by Marguerite Duras and others for the screen, Richardson made of Mademoiselle a blindingly visual film. Dialogue is spare, there is no music on the soundtrack, only the sounds of man and nature. The eye is dazzled by David Watkin’s (Out of Africa, Moonstruck) black and white photography of forest, field, stream, lake, and shore. And Moreau is devastating as the lethal mademoiselle.

Although Mademoiselle was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for BAFTAs for B&W cinematography and costume design (for which it won), it was widely panned by critics during its initial release. Tony Richardson, who’d won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for Tom Jones (1963), was also derided. More than likely, over-interpretation of the film’s possible psychological and psychosexual themes was mostly to blame for that. This underrated work from Moreau, Richardson and Watkin is a striking film, mysterious, disturbing and not soon forgotten.


The French Had a Name for It 4 will also showcase films of American-actor-in-France Eddie Constantine, early work from director Claude Chabrol, 1950s noirs of Jean Gabin, '30s French noir from Charles Boyer and director Robert Siodmak...for more program and ticket information, click here.


  1. I saw this back in '65 or '66 and was blown away bit. I have a DVD of it, but honestly have not watched it in a long time. Need to take another look. Moreau is amazing!

    1. I first watched "Mademoiselle" 3 nights ago and it's been on my mind ever since. There is one scene involving her and the lumberjack that just floored me. What a brave and powerful actress Jeanne Moreau was...

  2. I haven't seen this one Lady Eve, a film noir indeed. I can imagine it was just too noir for the likes of a school teacher played by a distinguished actress for the critics or the public to appreciate. The existentialism of it must have appealed to some, I imagine. I'll have to look for it. Thanks for covering this one Lady Eve.

    1. This is a very interesting film, Christian, would like to hear your take if/when you see it.