A brief look at "Olivia" versus "Maedchen in Uniform" before I offer my exclusive review of the former.
While it is true that Dorothy Strachey's 1933 novel Olivia (which was published in French originally, and then published again in English in 1949) was inspired by Christa Winsloe's novel-turned-play-turned-movies The Child Manuela, it certainly offered a different backdrop, as well as array of characters. The Child Manuela, adapted for the screen under the title "Maedchen in Uniform", was first made in 1931, starring Dorothea Wieck and Hertha Thiele. It was then re-made nearly 30 yrs later starring Lilli Palmer and Romy Schneider. I am a HUGE Lilli Palmer fan, so I personally favor the re-make over the original. But that's just me.
"Olivia" is probably one of the most civilized films of its kind and for its time. I have only seen the French version of it, so I hope there were no cuts. I am curious to know what all was cut from the US release, as I seem to think that even in the French one, there is a scene toward the end of it in which Mlle Julie (played by the EXTRAORDINARY Edwige Feuillere) comes into Olivia's room to say goodbye to her and Olivia embraces her. She says that she must say goodbye to all that she has loved, even to Olivia, and she leans close. It appears that they may have cut the bit that shows her kissing Olivia on the lips. She comes so close, and then there's this little disturbance and suddenly she's inches away from Olivia.
I have a strong affinity for novels and films regarding erotic pedagogy. I've been there myself. There really is no easy end to a story like that. But "Olivia" somehow sticks with me. I have the novel, which is a must-read, and I am surprised no one has re-made it.
The 1951 film is extremely difficult to find. There is a user on YouTube that offers it, but the quality is not the greatest. Still, it's something ! I am surprised that there is not more on the internet about this, as there is for "Maedchen in Uniform". I think "Olivia" was a bolder film, and less ambiguous in terms of the teacher reciprocating the student's affections. The novel is slightly more explicit about there being a mutual attraction between them, but even the film shows a level of intimacy that we don't see in MiU. The kissing scene in MiU (1958) arises from Manuela rehearsing her lines for Romeo and Juliet. Also, many people could easily say that Manuela is only crushing on Fraulein Von Bernburg because she has just lost her mother and she is searching for the affection she doesn't receive from anyone else at Kaiserin-Augusta EXCEPT for Fraulein Von Bernburg, leading them to conclude that she's not really in love. Both versions of that film hold this same ambiguous uncertainty, which I find disappointing.
"Olivia" is much more blank-slate. The feelings between Julie and Olivia exist and are mutual, even if there are no explicitly sexual scenes which reflect that. It is quite obvious that Mlle Julie sees something in Olivia, and that is love, which she herself does not feel she gets from Cara, the other headmistress (as well as her partner). It's implied that Julie and Cara are companions, not just partners in running Les Avons, both in the novel and the film. The villain in the story is Frau Riesener, who seizes Cara in her vulnerable state and weakens her, driving a wedge between her and Julie which causes her to become jealous of Julie's rapport with her students.
There is an odd scene in "Olivia" which always seems to confuse me. WARNING ! SPOILER ! Julie kisses another girl, Cecile, openly and blatantly on her shoulder in front of Olivia, as if to provoke her jealousy. This is unseemly to me. I'm sure it's meant to attract attention, as she doesn't receive much affection from Cara, who, just a few scenes back, accused Julie of not loving her. Of course, Cara does not appeal to me at all. She is histrionic and ill-tempered. It is obvious that she doesn't appreciate all that Julie does to try to make her happy. It's no wonder that Julie should desire to spend more time with her students and at dinner parties than with Cara !
The story is quite complex ! Aside from it being about a girls' boarding school, and the skeletal notion of erotic pedagogy driving the plot, "Olivia" and "Maedchen" are COMPLETELY different films to me. Actually, I think "Olivia" is more complex and mysterious., which pleases me greatly. There are many ambiguities and unanswered questions, but whether or not Julie returns Olivia's affections is not one of them.
In short, "Olivia" is a dynamic story, quite complex. It is also somewhat of an ensemble. All of the characters play integral roles, from Olivia herself to the headmistresses, to even the Victoire the cook.
This film presents La Premiére (Edwige Feuillère) at her finest !
Ten out of ten !
Cheers, Katharyn R. King Screenwriter, Actor, Director
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