Jacqueline Audry is a special case in French cinema:today ,her work is either disdained or ignored.Nevertheless she was ,along Ida Lupino,and long before Agnès Varda ,the only woman director of the era ;and like her American peer ,she often focused on female psychology .
Based on Victor Margueritte 's novel ,it's the remake of a 1936 movie by Jean De Limur starring Marie Bell;another MTV work was made later starring the late Marie Trintignant.
In the fifties ,the movie got a PG 18 .And the office Catholique Du Cinema forbade this immoral film to their flock.
IMHO ,Audry's take on "La Garçonne"is superior ,in several respects ,to the thirties effort:not only because it was filmed in color ,but also because Andrée Debar was the ideal actress:a woman with an androgynous face ,the part was tailor made for her ;later Audry would cast her as the Chevalier D'Eon ,a spy in the pay of Louis The Fifteenth ,who,on his assignments ,used to dress up as a woman -in the movie,unlike what the historians say,the sexes are reversed.
Andrée Debar gave up her actress career in the sixties and became a producer;really too bad for she was one of a kind.
"La Garçonne ' begins as a traditional romantic drama : two families want their offspring to marry because of their business :Monique is an ingenue,a clueless girl,who believes in true love ,for her Fiancé is a handsome man ,and anyway at the time (early twentieth century) ,marriage is the only thing a decent girl must long for. When she discovers her future husband has a lover,she rebels against her bourgeois family and their money match :she will lead a free wild life .
She will live like a man (check the title : "la Garçonne" = the male girl).soon she becomes the toast of the Gai Paris,sleeping with all the men around ,and even with a woman called Nichette -it was more explicit in the 1936 version ,and anyway a blond Arletty stole the show from Marie Bell in every scene she was in-:in both movies ,of course,the word "lesbian " is never uttered; a homosexual man appears in both movies too.
As though it were not enough ,there are two scenes ,which must have horrified the Office Catholique: an (almost) naked male dancer ,which predates Playgirl by about 15 years,and a cabaret act ,showing an oriental sultan selling by auction chained beauties he whips :if this transparent metaphor of the women's submission is not clear enough,lesbian Nichette "buys" one of the slaves.
As far as feminism is concerned,Audry did cleverer things earlier than Varda (the latter's "Le Bonheur" displayed a macho side as the victim was a woman).Monique is not a victim ;the way she treats her former fiancé defies conventions :she takes him to the daring places where she is at ease whereas he "wants to save her" : "save me? from what?" she defiantly replies .In the last part,there's a curious "Mise En Abyme " : La Garçonne ,and her friend ,a philosophy teacher -who possesses Sade's "Les 120 Jours De Sodome " in his collection of books - put on a play which tells her story ,in which the ex- fiancé is ridiculed :when he attends the rehearsals ,he is humiliated and soon led to despair.Sweet revenge indeed.
The woman's lib side is more convincing in Audry's remake :okay,she will settle down ,but with the man she has chosen ,an intellectual twenty years her senior ,himself a rebel against the bourgeois society."My former fiancé is so awkward" she tells him when he tries to shoot them in a fit of anger.In a conventional story,the damsel in distress is forced to marry the graybeard whereas she loves the young romantic male lead ;but as her heroine,Jacqueline Audry was not born to follow.
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