Directed by Jacqueline Audry • Drama • With Edwige Feuillere, Simone Simon • 1950 • 96 minutes
OLIVIA is a remarkable work by one of France’s first ground-breaking 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. 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.” —Vito Russo, "The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies"