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OLIVIA

France, 1950 (MIFF 1956, Programme 4)

Director: Jacqueline Audry

This is the story of Mlle. Julie, headmistress of a girls' school, attractive to her pupils and attracted by them, who finally causes tragedy and loses all that is nearest to her heart. We are reminded of the German film of the same theme, Madchen in Uniform, but Olivia is both keener and more subtle.

At the turn of the century a young English girl, Olivia, is sent to an exclusive French-finishing school near Paris. The young and impressionable girl at first sees in her new school only its luxury and freedom, and in its headmistresses only their kindness and charm.

She finds that nearly all the pupils idolise Mlle. Julie, one of of the headmistresses. Her estranged friend, Mlle. Cara, spolit and jealous, takes refuge in invalidism and threats of suicide and does not participate in the running of the school anymore. To Mlle. Julie, Olivia loses her heart, believing in the adolescent sudden bursting awareness that her love is purely spiritual, and that in Mlle. Julie there is nothing that is not beautiful, talented and sympathetic. She does not realise the conflict she causes in Mlle. Julie, who is too well aware of her duties to her pupils to show any deep response but is nevertheless drawn to her new pupil.

Edwige Feuillere's Julie is a beautiful creation; the grace, the poise, the understanding and the suggestions of inner tensions are finely conveyed. Nothing is overstated, often the significance of a scene is suggested by the merest catch in her voice &ndash as, for instance when she is reading the passage of Andromache to her pupils. Simone Simon gives a performance that is no less striking &nash: a pathetic image of bitterness and remorse.

Throughout this remarkable and sensitive film, certainly enchantment reigns. The atmosphere is genuine, the staging decorative. Witness the start of the Christmas holidays; suddenly the light is colder, the leaves burn, there's a tearful parting and through the quiet grey streets, the winding cab is chased by children. The feel of the period is caught with nostalgic insight throughout and the acting, decor and camera work all combine in producing a film of feeling and charm.

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