The girls' boarding school is from Mädchen in Uniform, described variously as "prison," "fortress" and "museum," though "cemetery" seems to fit best when Therese (Essy Persson) returns to it, middle-aged and doleful, to remember a vanished romance. She gazes upon "the reflection of my face before the creation of the world" (in a toilet bowl) and suddenly she's a young student shunted off to the College du Lys by her newly remarried mom, locking herself in the lavatory with lovely, spirited classmate Isabelle (Anna Gael) for a tryst brusquely interrupted. Cavernous hallways and geometric gardens supply Radley Metzger with some of his most sumptuous sets, he lays out the stone-cold architecture only to warm it up with the heady rush of sensual intoxication -- the tip of Therese's finger caresses Isabelle's arm while she reads in the staircase, the camera tilts up to take in Gael's Deneuveish opulence in close-up as Baudelaire's words are evoked, "luxurious... languorous... sensuous... voluptuous." Metzger's technique is adroitly founded on European arthouse (Resnais, Malle, Schlöndorff) and carried out with a melancholy panning camera: The forlorn present forever intrudes upon recalled ecstasy, Therese's tremulous roll on a bed of leaves with a sensitive lothario is rhymed with her nocturnal romp with Isabelle in the woods following a botched day together in the city. It also reflects what the director can and cannot yet depict on screen -- a woman diddling herself to shuddering orgasm is a ballet performance to Metzger, fully deserving the widescreen long-take, while the Sapphic encounter is kept as a fuzzy mirror image so that Violette Leduc's rapt prose can take over ("She became short of saliva, she created more..."). It's closer to Lelouch than to Demy, but what's wrong with a tender A Woman and a Woman to balance out the acid of The Killing of Sister George? With Barbara Laage, Anne Vernon, Maurice Teynac, and Rémy Longa. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce