This is as strange as a mainstream film gets. Directed by British director and a leader of the “kitchen sinkers” of the 1950s, Tony Richardson, set in France, with Jeanne Moreau as a sadistic, sociopathic school teacher in a little rural town, spoken in English, with a smattering of French accents, but not from Ms. Moreau, and with several key characters speaking in Italian with no sub-titles, the film seems like a dry run for Haneke’s The White Ribbon, though it is far from dry. There is, as there always is, a simmering eroticism in Jeanne Moreau’s performance, even when she is her most repressive schoolteacher self and her doppleganger self, who does heinous deeds leading to death, destruction and vigilante action against an innocent man, is as close to cracking as Tony Perkins at his most neurotic but with that added frisson of sexual desire that cannot be fully and finally contained.
It isn’t a great film but it’s a fascinating example of what can happen on the margins of the mainstream. Few reviewed it, Roger Ebert, who is quite astute, panned it, but I find it a glorious example of bad art revelling in its badness. That Jean Genet and Marguerite Duras somehow collaborated or revised each other’s scripts may have had something to do with it. It’s hard to imagine many films in the 60s having sex scenes as raw, kinky, and hot as the one Richardson builds up in this film. It’s worth the price of admission alone and leaves one to ponder if it exists to allow for lingering shots of the handsome Italian woodsman who is Moreau’s seducer and victim simultaneously; he gets lots of screen time and clearly had Genet if not Richardson’s full attention.