Saturday Night Spotlight #9: Jacqueline Audry

Jacqueline Audry (1908-1977) has been described as the first woman director to achieve success at the box office in post-WWII France. Audry began as a script girl on the Max Ophüls-directed film Yoshiwara (1937), soon graduating to assistant director for a number of films made in the late 1930s and early 40s including Le roman de Werther (1938, another Max Ophüls film) and Girls in Distress (1939, Georg Wilhelm Pabst). Audry made her directorial debut in 1946 with Les malheurs du Sophie, a dramedy starring Madeleine Rousset, who worked with Audry again in the role of Liane d’Exelmans in Gigi (1949). Audry’s directorial career ended in the late 1960s and she died as the result of a car accident in 1977 at age 68. Of her fifteen films, only Gigi (her best-remembered film), Minne (1950, another Colette adaptation), Olivia (1951) and Mitsou (1956, Colette again) received American theatrical releases, but Audry certainly made a mark for herself in France, serving as a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1963.

Gigi (1949) – Nine years before the MGM musical version, Audry directed a non-musical film of the same story which is a simple and quaint comedy starring Danièle Delorme in the title role. Based on Colette’s novella concerning a teenage girl being prepped by her family for a life as a courtesan in turn-of-the-century Paris, Gaby Morlay played Tante Alicia (later played by Isabel Jeans in the 1958 film), Jean Tissier played Honoré (later Maurice Chevalier), Yvonne de Bray played Mamita (later Hermione Gingold) and Frank Villard played Gaston (later Louis Jourdan). The film was cut by a female editor, Nathalie Petit-Roux, as well as having era-appropriate costumes designed by Marie-Louise Bataille.

Olivia (aka The Pit of Loneliness) (1951) – Jacqueline Audry’s older sister, Colette Audry, and Pierre Laroche (who was Jacqueline’s husband and had earlier adapted Gigi) wrote the screenplay for this drama, co-produced by the director and based on Dorothy Bussy’s novel Olivia (1949). The film bears some similarities to the Colette novel Claudine at School (1900) and to the German film Mädchen in Uniform (1931), which was co-directed by another female filmmaker, Leontine Sagan, and which is concerned with the same subject as Olivia: sexual attraction between female schoolteachers and their female students. In Audry’s film two of the teachers are played by Edwige Feuillère, who received a BAFTA nomination for her performance, and Simone Simon, who was an international sex symbol for her French films like La Bête Humaine (1938) and La Ronde (1950) and for American films like The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and Cat People (1942). Once more Audry worked with a female film editor, Marguerite Beaugé, whose career before then included notable films like La Roue (1923, Abel Gance), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer), Pépé le Moko (1937, Julien Duvivier) and Le Corbeau (1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot); Geneviève Falaschi was the assistant editor. More women played important roles behind the scenes: Marcelle Desvignes and Mireille Leydet designed the costumes, Jacqueline Loir was the script supervisor and Marguerite Théoule was the production secretary.

In Bosley Crowther’s New York Times review of Olivia (released stateside as The Pit of Loneliness) in 1954, he wrote that Although it skirts along the edges of an area of unnatural love confined within the delicate environment of a fashionable French finishing school, there is nothing indecorous or offensive in the picture as it is played. Mlle. Audry has handled a tragic subject with sensitivity and a wistful, fragile grace … withal, one must still praise Mlle. Audry for her capture of the atmosphere, for her fine taste in period costuming and genuine French décor. One shot of the yard of the chateau-school, with leaves burning and girls chasing about, is as flavorsome as chestnut blossoms. This sort of thing gives splendid character to the film.”

No Exit (1954) – Once again Pierre Laroche worked with Audry, this time adapting the famous existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, an examination of troubled souls in Hell. Arletty, one of France’s best-known actresses, plays a character who is credited as “Inès – une lesbienne,” another example of Audry’s boundary-pushing tendencies in exploring female identity and sexuality. Marguerite Beaugé again worked as film editor for Audry, supported by Suzanne Cabon as the assistant editor.

Hitch-Hike (1962) – Audry brings many famous actors together for this comedic road movie: Arletty, Bernard Blier, Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Claude Brialy, Daniel Gélin, Fernand Gravey, Pierre Mondy, François Périer, Claude Rich and Lino Ventura all have roles. The lead is newcomer Agathe Aëms, who never made another film. Film editor Suzanne de Troeye, who had made a name for herself with French classics of the 1930s like Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932, Jean Renoir), Toni (1935, Renoir), César (1936, Marvel Pagnol), The Baker’s Wife (1938, Pagnol) and La Bête Humaine (1938, Renoir), as well as working on the Marc Allégret films Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1955) and Plucking the Daisy (1956), took the reigns on Hitch-Hike. Jacqueline Audry’s commitment to working with women both on and off the screen continued right until the end, her final film being Bitter Fruit (1967), based on a play by Colette Audry (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jacqueline and two others), starring Emmanuelle Riva, edited by Francine Grubert, costumes designed by Jelisaveta Gobecki and with Eva Ceresnjes as one of the two assistant directors.

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