(1969)4Nathan SouthernBack in 1970, the handful of mainstream American cinemagoers who caught A Very Curious Girl (aka La Fiancée du Pirate) during its brief stateside release may have been tempted to brush it aside as the kind of smoker-caliber arthouse feature for which Borowczyk became notorious -- where European characters tromp around blurry, color-drenched, muddy landscapes and emit banal, humorless dialogue. These judgments are myopic, and the film demands a contemporary reappraisal. For when one views La Fiancée du Pirate in its subtitled video version, it emerges as a little wonder, a smart and sassy feminist-themed sex comedy that has been quietly awaiting discovery for over three decades. Initial appearances aside, the humor, though occasionally subtle, is ever-present -- a series of witty French double-entendres and puns that only become clear with repeat viewings -- and director Nelly Kaplan's visual griminess is unquestionably deliberate. She plunges the audience into the apocryphal, rural French village of Tellier, ruled by a group of male Neanderthals so heathenish and cruddy and disgusting that their grunge appears to be contagious, having oozed out into the world around them (as Kaplan and her cinematographer, Jean Badal, shoot the village, it is constantly enveloped by dirty smog). Much of the pleasure in this picture comes from the riotously ignorant actions of these chauvinist pigs, who at one point become soused enough to make drunken merriment at an old woman's wake and clumsily pour wine down her throat. But to whatever degree Kaplan relies on the idiocy of the male characters to elicit laughter, she counterbalances the film's humorous overtones with a profound, almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy pulled from the central story, involving the victimization of the film's main character. As portrayed by Bernadette Lafont (Le Voleur), Marie comes across as a harried young woman who reacts to continual exploitation at the hands of her neighbors with quiet stoicism, but gradually (and hilariously) begins to turn the tables on everyone, setting the film up for a riotous shock ending. Given this unusual yet interesting balance between humor and sadness, the picture's resultant overtones are extremely eccentric, almost unclassifiable -- Chekhovian tragi-comedy with a hypercharged contrast between levity and pathos -- which may explain why some viewers felt dismayed but does not constitute an intrinsic weakness of the film. On a side note: A Very Curious Girl earns a footnote in cinema history for featuring one of the legendary Louis Malle's only film appearances as an actor (he makes a cameo appearance as a Portuguese working man named Jesus, a character whose name sets up the film's funniest line).
Also known as La Fiancée du Pirate and Dirty Mary, this French comedy noir stars Bernadette Lafont as Marie, the title character. Early in the game, Marie learns how to use sex as a means to an end. She enjoys the favors of several of her town's leading citizens, not-too-subtly suggesting that her silence can be bought. Nearly driven out of town by the local moral arbiters, Marie strikes a blow against hypocrisy with a deliciously creative revenge. A Very Curious Girl is the sort of harmless French fare that used to pop up on your local Late Late Late Show in-between the Vegomatic ads and the "Live Better Electrically" public-service spots.