A tragic subject told with sensitivity and a wistful, fragile grace.



OLIVIA is a remarkable work by one of France’s first groundbreaking female filmmakers, which easily merits rediscovery today after being neglected for almost 70 years.

Plunging the viewer – and the main character – into a true lion’s den, Jacqueline Audry (1908-1977) depicts a 19th century boarding school for young girls, one divided into two camps where all the shots, even the most underhanded, seem allowed.

That’s because the two mistresses of the house, Miss Julie (Edwige Feuillere) and Miss Cara (Simone Simon), are engaged in a true turf war, and a war of the heart; competing for the affections of their students, they rouse passion, hatred and unexpected reversals of loyalties.

OLIVIA does not address female homosexuality directly, and the director passes no judgment on her characters but instead explores the students’ discovery of love and attraction and the awakening of their senses. Only the two temptresses, Julie and Cara, are presented as manipulative, and power seems to animate them as much as suppressed carnal desire.

This is a unique film and OLIVIA is a delight on the screen. Shutting away its young actresses in a somber, gothic space, somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock’s REBECCA, Audry orchestrates a flow of people around the boarding school’s staircase: a circular space from which the teens observe others, and the hallways, waiting rooms, and vestibules of the building, which evoke a fairytale castle. It instills a mood of strangeness that borders on the fantastic.

The director creates a world almost without men, and those that appear show no interest in what is actually happening at the school. For France at that time, when homosexuality was still largely considered deviant, Audrey has made a fundamentally feminist film.

“Hothouse lesbian passion in an upper class French girls’ school.” —The Celluloid Closet

“Olivia is a rare film in every sense, beautiful, precious, secret.” —Liberation
Not Rated
Drama, Romance, French Cinema, LGBT, Women and Film
Jacqueline Audry
Edwige Feuillere, Simone Simon
John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter

Released in France in 1951 and based on a novel that was self-consciously risque, Jacqueline Audry's 'Olivia' sounds like a bonanza for viewers seeking new chapters in the history of queer cinema: The namesake character, a semi-autobiographical stand-in for novelist Dorothy Bussy, is a teenage ...

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