Directed by Jacqueline Audry
96 min | 1952 | France
Presented in French with English subtitles.
Cast: Edwige Feuillère, Simone Simon, Marie-Claire Olivia
Made 70 years ago, Olivia, is a remarkably poignant story of jealousy, desire, and admiration. Created by French filmmaking heroine Jacqueline Audry and featuring a nearly all female cast, the film joins seamlessly the stories of female compassion, passion, and strife dominating today’s industry. Two female leads play competing head mistresses of a gothic all girls boarding school. As the film unfolds the audience is placed at the center of a battle of two den mothers racing one another to win the hearts and affections of their students. Wrought performances coupled with decadent costuming create a unique charm and scandalous landscape where manipulation, betrayal, and attraction layer to form an indulgent viewing experience.
As is so often the case, the explicit lesbianism lies right beneath the surface, but the writing creates massive tension as the characters all vie for queer attentions and ultimately all move towards a sexual awakening. Power and sexuality swirl in a stunningly romantic tale of coded drama, its demureness mirroring the reservation French high society. As much as the silent homosexuality, the architecture plays a large role as the drama unfolds in a school that with its conquests and distresses becomes a kind of castle with two tempting queens on its throne. Flirtatious, taunting, and lulling “Olivia” remains a compelling artifact of historical closeted cinema, it surprises and excites.
– Ashley Hoyle
Nominated: Best Actress–1953 BAFTA