Isabelle Adjani was 28 and already a star when she played Eliane, the scheming minx who dominates the film. Eliane is a wild child, disturbed, bitchy and alluring by turns. She has in mind a grand plan of revenge against the people whom she holds responsible for the rape of her mother. However, events take an unexpected turn ...
This is a story saturated in, and powered by, sex. Eliane is obsessed by the violent rape of her mother back in 1955, the very incident which spawned her. In a real sense, her whole existence is given meaning by the rape. She is an extremely attractive girl, and she uses sex to get what she wants, and particularly to advance her designs of vengeance.
Pin Pon (Alain Souchon) is a decent, simple man. His family, the Montecciari, are proud of their Italian descent. In their barn stands the barrel organ which played "Roses of Picardy" during the rape, and this Italian organ-grinder's instrument becomes for Eliane the symbol of her sense of injustice. She schemes to entrap Pin Pon into marrying her, in order to get close to the family's bosom.
From the early scene in which Pin Pon emerges from under a car on a mechanic's trolley to find himself looking up Eliane's tiny diaphanous skirt, we know that he is an innocent dupe and that she is a pouting, dangerous little madam. It quickly becomes obvious that she is also unstable. Her behaviour in the restaurant embarrasses Pin Pon and her relationship with her mother is difficult and quasi-sexual. At times she regresses into a child-like vulnerability, and at others she is wantonly malicious and unruly.
The narration of the story switches between the characters in a natural and convincing way. Eliane's relationship with the deaf Costagna (Suzanne Flon) is sensitively portrayed. Eliane is the only one whom the deaf woman can understand, because she whispers. The deaf old fool sees more clearly than the others what Eliane is about.
To manipulate Pin Pon into marriage, Eliane pretends to be 'expecting'. Once again, sex is being used to avenge sex, the product of the unlooked-for pregnancy is exploiting her own imaginary pregnancy to settle the score. She takes particular delight in antagonising Pin Pon's stiff, correct mother (Jenny Cleve). The wedding is marred when Eliane unaccountably vanishes - another slight inflicted on the Montecciari, and a mirroring of the baby's 'disappearance'.
The key to the complex plot is Eliane's traumatic relationship with her father, played by Michel Galabru. Just as Eliane is not really an expectant mother, so M. Devigne is not really a father. There is a sexual element in the bond of affection, at least in Eliane's unbalanced mind, and a colossal burden of guilt.
If the men in the truck hadn't taken a wrong turning on that November night in 1955, or if the German girl hadn't been displaced by the war, or the Italians hadn't chosen to settle in the Vaucluse ... There is a sense in which the accidental intermingling of nationalities has caused this disruption in the life of the sleepy provencal village. And now, twenty years on, the potent mixture is reaching critical mass.