School for Love
France • 1h 32m
Directed by Marc Allégret • Drama • With Jean Marais, Brigitte Bardot, Isabelle Pia, Yves Robert • 1955 • 96 minutes
Brigitte Bardot was only 20 when she starred in this adaptation of a 1920 Vicki Baum novel. She’s Sophie, one of a platoon of young music conservatory students in postwar Vienna, but the one that stands out, especially to the head singing teacher Walter (Jean Marais), whose real love is his wife, a famous and unstable diva (Denise Noel), but who routinely dallies with his more beautiful students. The story details the hothouse triangle between the saucy and self-confident Sophie, Walter, and a third student, Elis (Isabelle Pia), a talented but melancholic blonde from a troubled home whom no one realizes is nearing the brink of suicide.
The scenario is distinctly pre-#MeToo, allowing Allégret and his co-screenwriter Roger Vadim (Mr. Bardot at this point) to treat the sexual-romantic gamesmanship with a degree of ambivalence – the girls are naturally besotted with their celebrity prof, and vulnerable, but the melodrama turns on the girls eventually banding together and stepping out of the Lothario’s orbit. The cinematography by Robert Julliard (veteran of Rossellini and Clouzot) deftly captures not only Bardot’s traffic-stopping cat eyes and sensuality, but the workaday details of a ritzy Old World music school, and the epic poshness of Vienna in wintertime.
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