Thursday, April 1, 2010

Roger Vadim's La jeune fille assassinée (1974)

La jeune fille assassinée (1974) involves the investigation of the death of a young woman, Charlotte (Sirpa Lane), by a journalist, Georges Viguier (Roger Vadim). Her death was quite scandalous as gossip pointed to international playboy, Eric von Schellenberg (Mathieu Carriere), as being a strong suspect as to her murderer. However, von Schellenberg was able to avoid prosecution because of family political ties (so says the gossip groups). When Georges learns of Charlotte's death, his mind hearkens back to his first meeting with the young woman. Georges calls his publisher and says that he wants off of his current project: he wants to write a book about Charlotte and the circumstances leading to her death. At a fashion show, Georges meets von Schellenberg who openly admits to Georges that he killed Charlotte. Slightly incredulous or curious to seek deeper into Charlotte's later life, Georges begins an investigation by visiting people who claim to have known her from recent times and listens to their stories. La jeune fille assassinee becomes a portrait Lane's Charlotte.
Director Roger Vadim "is now best known as the husband, or lover, of various famous women--Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Catherine Deneuve etc--an image he has fostered in books and interviews in recent years. A shame, as it puts into the shade his real achievements as a film-maker of some style and originality...He was always interested in decor and pictorial images as much as in action and character, and for that reason his best films--Blood and Roses, Barbarella, Charlotte--are like glossy, animated photo albums." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995)The initial memory, or more specifically, the initial image of Charlotte is perhaps what motivates Vadim's Georges to take upon his investigation. From presumably Georges's point of view, the camera reveals Sirpa Lane sitting peacefully in a strikingly arty composition; and as she looks up into the camera, Lane's Charlotte captures Georges's eye, much like Lane, the actress, captures the viewer's eye. Ms. Sirpa Lane is undeniably a beautiful woman, unlike the classical beauties, for example, of Vadim's relationships and previous works. She possesses quite the sensuous aura and charisma and Lane often becomes more seductive, like Charlotte, with every subsequent frame. Likewise, as the above quote accurately alludes, Vadim's portrait of Charlotte is a series of episodes, shot with an obsessive eye to detail and his female lead. Interestingly, at the end of La jeune fille assassinee, Vadim's Georges tells his publisher a very pinpoint and accurate statement--reflecting what he learned about Charlotte through his investigation. The film, as a whole, also corroborates Georges's statement (or conclusion) as to whom Charlotte really is. However, the overall sense of La jeune fille almost belies its conclusion: that is to say, it's a sympathetic portrait of misunderstood woman whose sympathy is engendered because she is misunderstood.In one scene, Charlotte is sitting at dinner with her family and she is animated and full of life, speaking about her evening plans, while her father sits across from her with labored breathing. Apparently, as he is involved in politics, his situation has become stressful and his work (or the political situation as a whole) is taking a toll on him. In an overt and obvious gesture, he places his palms on his adult daughter's face and gently kisses her forehead like a child. "Charlotte, you're an idiot," he says. Much like most of the scenes in La jeune fille, an objective rendering of this scene is impossible. Why are Charlotte's beliefs and outlook on life subordinate to her father's? Is she an "idiot," because she could care less about politics? Are politics a realm free from their own childlike facets? This dinner scene can be juxtaposed with another which depicts Charlotte in a very childlike manner. Charlotte becomes jealous that her brother, Phillipe, has romantic feelings towards a woman. Charlotte and her sister bound the young woman and begin some nasty hazing upon her. Charlotte's sister is less interested and only tells Charlotte to stop teasing when it gets unbearable both for her victim and herself. Charlotte's teasing and hazing is of a sexual nature (arguably engaging in sexual abuse). However, there is nothing sexy about the scene despite some graphic nudity, and Vadim's camera shoots the scene like a kinky sex sequence with the victim's screams substituting for moans of pleasure and close-up shots of hands bound and clothes being removed. In turn, this scene can be juxtaposed with Charlotte fighting with Phillipe after confronting him with her jealousy. Charlotte is visibly angry and takes to Phillipe with her fists. Vadim, interestingly, steals the occasional close-up shot of Charlotte's nightgown slipping and her exposed crotch and legs. Undeniably, these scenes are for titillation. Whereas the previous scene was clearly a scene of violence with an uncomfortable voyeuristic, sexual take on the depiction, Charlotte's fight with Phillipe is a scene of violence where Vadim doesn't hide his voyeuristic sexual depiction. As each flashback sequence plays against each other, more of Charlotte is revealed. Arguably, none of the flashback sequences are angelic or demonic depictions of Charlotte, and also arguably, none are really objective (stories told from others) or really subjective (Vadim's camera and compositions tell a different story of Charlotte visually).Obviously, Vadim has creatively rendered La jeune fille assassinee, mixing both the sensational and the intellectual. It's a film about perspectives and how judgemental and less sym/empathetic others often are. Likewise, regardless of what one thinks of Charlotte as a character, Vadim goes to great lengths to depict his female lead as quite sensuous and seductive. Lane does little to hamper him. In one scene, Charlotte and a friend dress up for a private dance and striptease. Vadim dresses his actress like a soldier from the Nutcracker Suite with a ridiculously large top hat and accompanying outfit with a mustache, only to then make his camera static with the soft light while Lane and her charisma and sensuality take over. Watching Charlotte in soft red light confronting Eric in the hallway of a club is also erotic as her character is charged with both undefinable emotion towards Eric and a strong attraction. Eric gives chase to Charlotte to embrace her in the crowded street. Her loose dress falls open, and Lane takes command of the scene. Hauntingly beautiful and sometimes dangerous, always seductive and too complex to pin down.La jeune fille assassinee feels like a dangerous game of Russian roulette--very serious subject matter with a very playful and creative (yet very serious) storytelling style with sensational and arty scenes side by side or blended together.

1 comment:

mightb menassateague said...

My very first job was ticket taker/usher at a downtown theatre that was famous for showing "art films". I will never forget the very first movie to play while I was working was Roger Vadim's Charlotte aka La Jeune Fille Assassinee.
The movie, rated X, had a 4 week run so I watched it many times. I remember finding the movie both erotic and dangerous. A combination that I am still drawn to today - in film AND real life. Roger Vadim films soon became a highlight of my life. I have several on VHS & DVD yet I, after years of searching, have NEVER been able to get ahold of a copy of CHARLOTTE to add to my collection. Is this amazing film available to the public or was it never released on VHS/DVD? If it IS available, please assist me in locating a copy. My appreciation and thanks for any info. Robert