Directed by Jacqueline Audry

96 minutes / B&W
French / English subtitles
Release: 2019
Copyright: 1950

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 viewerand the main characterinto 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 fairy-tale 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.” —Vito Russo, "The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies"

“A compound of velvet innuendos—polite, discreet and finely wrought. Because of the secret affections that pass among the teachers and the girls, [Olivia] skirts along the edges of an area of unnatural love”  —Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Olivia is a rare film in every sense—beautiful, precious, secret.” —Camille Nevers, Libération

Audry was as transgressive as many of her heroines, a woman forced to struggle for her own recognition. Olivia has a lasting power.” —Eloise Ross, Senses of Cinema

“Surprisingly frank... allowed lesbian viewers of the time to find in it a tender representation of love between women.” —Imaginaries (H-France)

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A film by Jacqueline Audry

Co-released by Icarus Films and Distrib Films


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