The Screen: French Film Bows; ' Pit of Loneliness' Is Import at Normandie Life of School Girls Dealt With Tenderly

By Bosley Crowther

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April 9, 1954, Page 0Buy Reprints
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JACQUELINE AUDRY, the French director who turned out "Gigi" and "Minne," a couple of anise-spiced French pastries set in the period of carriages, corsets and curls, has come up with another little item having to do with pubescent girls and the older women who presumably direct them, also set in that fin-desiècle age.This one, which does tend to take on a faintly purplish hue because of the secret affections that pass among the teachers and the girls, is here given the significant title of "Pit of Loneliness." It was put on exhibition at the Normandie yesterday.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.But the fact that the situation the lady presents in this film—a rivalry among several people for the handsome headmistress' regard — is loaded with tragic implications, which are briefly realized toward the end, projects the whole thing into a region she has not previously trod. And it looks as though Mlle. Audry has been reluctant to approach it head-on.Her screen play by Colette (her sister), from a novel by Olivia, is a compound of velvet innuendos—polite, discreet and finely wrought. The whole atmosphere of female tension that exists in the Fontainebleau school is developed with ultra-decorum and a humorous attitude. Indeed, it appears that it is nothing more than the familiar schoolgirl "crush" that is the complicating factor through the better part of the film.This isn't lacking amusement. The bewilderment of a new pupil in the face of the cliques among the teachers and the pupils does have a light and modest charm. But it tends to infuse the whole picture with a sort of "Gigi" frivolity that becomes discordant and trivial when the depth of the emotional danger is realized. And then an adroit evasion of the real dramatic crisis that looms reduces the tragic complication to the proportions of a touching episode.It is for this tenuous reason that one must feel some disappointment at this film, despite its beautiful realization and frequent tender and moving scenes. Edwige Feuillere is handsome and commanding as the dominant headmistress of the school, but the extent of her personal perdition is never put within her acting grasp. She is kept very much on the rim of the central pathos of the disillusion of one girl. So is Simone Simon as a joint headmistress. Her relation to her more dominant partner is kept vague, and the emptiness shows.As the pupil whose emotions are tangled and torn by her experience at the school, a young actress named Marie-Claire Olivia is lovely, sensitive and poised. And Yvonne De Bray and Suzanne Dehelly are diverting in semi-comic roles. The involvement of other pupils and teachers is not too clear.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.

PIT OF LONELINESS, screen play by Colette, based on a novel by Olivia; directed by Jacqueline Audry. A Memnon Films Production released here by Arthur Davis. At the Normandie.Mlle. Julle . . . . . Edwige FeuillereMlle. Cara . . . . . Simone SimonVictoire . . . . . Yvonne De BrayMlle. Dubois . . . . . Suzanne DehellyOlivia . . . . . Marie-Claire OliviaMimi . . . . . Marina De BergFrau Riesener . . . . . Lesly MeynardGirl in the Restaurant . . . . . Danielle Delorme