[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]
I caught up with Nelly Kaplan’s 1969 “Brechtian” comedy one afternoon in San Francisco when MOVIETONE NEWS failed to rate a second ticket to the Jane Fonda tribute at the film festival. While La Fiancée du Pirate (or A Very Curious Girl, as it’s known for purposes of American distribution) compelled a good deal more attention than most of the features in the 19th S.F. Film Festival, I feel dutybound to register a brief demurral as to its value as cinema. The scenario, about an umpteenth-generation, universally exploited piece of provincial trash who undoes her exploiters through a canny manipulation of her sexuality, their stuck-up susceptibility, and such unfamiliar bits of modern technology as a tape recorder and a record player—plus the fact that said scenario was devised and directed by a woman—has tended to win the film reflexively positive notice for eminently respectable sexual-political reasons. It’s a poor excuse for a movie—scarcely as incompetent as 92 in the Shade, but essentially bereft of anything resembling cinematic shape or style. One is always hesitant to protest the absence of such niceties when someone is surely waiting out there to insist, “That’s what’s Brechtian about it, ya schmuck!” But style and self-awareness have to find a meeting ground somewhere between Verfremdungseffekt and the old Hollywood slickeroo, and Nelly Kaplan (a one-time assistant to the monumentally ambitious director Abel Gance) seems to have made little attempt to find it.
An occasional closeup of Bernadette Lafont is cut into the mishmash with startling, truly unsettling effectiveness: a brooding, ferocious, eerily pre-moral glimpse of some mythic avenger, often as not set off against a dark panel in a generally gaudy background and/or crowned by predatory bat wings; we could have a stimulating go-round attempting to determine how much the mismatching is purposive and how much the legacy of general lackadaisicality in the angling, composition, rhythm. To her credit, Kaplan makes Lafont’s frequent and casual nudity a good deal more appealing and didactically forceful than Truffaut’s offensive, ugly treatment of the same actress—and an arguably similar character—in his 1972 Such a Gorgeous Kid like Me (Une Belle Fille comme moi), and she’s to be credited for flying in the face of the more doctrinaire brands of feminism and demonstrating that a lesbian relationship can be fully as exploitative as any heterosexual one.
A VERY CURIOUS GIRL (La Fiancée du Pirate)
Screenplay and direction: Nelly Kaplan. Cinematography: Jean Badal.
The players: Bernadette Lafont, Georges Geret, Julien Guiomar, Jacques Marin, Michel Constantin, Louis Malle.
Copyright © 1975 Richard T. Jameson