Marie-poupée (1976)

Spoilers abound, mes amis! Proceed with caution.

I've been thinking a lot about my favorite films. I always said that when I turned 30 I would make a list of my Top 500 favorite, and the top 100 would be my personal canon. I decided in my early 20's that I hadn't seen nearly enough to even have a fully formed sense of taste. Sure I liked this and I liked that but I was still discovering the films of-myself, and will continue to do that forever. I knew I wouldn't be anywhere close to that place of self-discovery for nearly a decade, so I gave myself a phase 1 kind of deadline of my 30th birthday. I'm not quite there yet, I still have a few more months to mull over this over but it's been in the back of my mind for so long that I know some preparation is necessary to make well thought-out decisions. For the past few years I've been trying to catch up on a lot of classics that I felt obligated to see. Some hit hard, others didn't. I'm getting closer to being comfortable with what I have seen and focusing less on what I should see. In doing this I'm revisiting some films that had a surprising impact on me. I need to take a closer look at a few titles that blindsided me with their greatness. The one that has been on my mind most recently is Marie, the Doll.

Joel Seria is probably best known for 'Don't Deliver Us From Evil' (1971). A remarkably stylish and romantic horror fairy tale. Two girls, their love for each other and Satan. Inspired by the Parker-Hulme Murder (Heavenly Creatures). Already an insane true story, Seria somehow managed to top the outrageous ending with something more dramatic than the actual event. It hit me hard when I saw it and it made me very curious about Seria's other films. I soon discovered another that also starred the strangely beautiful Jeanne Goupil. After looking at one still from Marie-Poupee, I knew it would be love.

Marie is a teenage girl who's been emotionally stunted by the death of her parents. Child-like and sweet, she wanders into a doll shop and catches the eye of the owner, Claude. Her raven hair and porcelain white skin reminds him of the dolls he so adores. Before you know it he's showing her his personal collection at his provincial mansion. He tries to give her a doll as a gift but she rejects it saying it would make her own doll "Andrea" jealous. Andrea has been used/worn-out/beaten up/loved - and that's the way Marie likes it. This was more relevant to me the second time around, I'll come back to that later. Instead he gives her a tiny little locket for Andrea.

Almost instantly, they are married. There is no romance, no courtship. Despite only being 17 years old, and even younger than that mentally, her grandparents think Claude is the perfect man for her. He's apparently kind and used to caring for delicate dolls. You sense that the Grandparents don't really know what to do to help Marie. Hers and Claude's mutual adoration seems like the perfect solution.

On their wedding night Claude tells her he wants to play a game. She'll lay motionless while he moves her around like a doll. He has her play dress-up in the girliest pink dress ever made and parade in front of him like a living doll. He undresses her, stares at her, and bathes her. She mustn't open her eyes or speak or the game is "ruined". Marie enjoys the game and loves the touch of her husband. Afterwards when he's dressed her in a nighty and tucked her in for bed, she then is allowed to stir and hug him goodnight. Innocent kisses and a sexless honeymoon. For the moment, Marie is content.

Disclaimer: Actress Jeanne Goupil was 25 at the time 

For a brief time, they live in marital bliss. He spoils her with the best of everything. Frilly dresses, fashionable hats, and a bedroom that would make anyone vaguely interested in Lolita culture gasp. Her world is enclosed with soft lace and softer pastels.

She enjoys their "game" and loves being the center of his world. She feels as if she's stumbled into a fairy tale, but it's not long before she starts to feel a longing that she can't quite interpret. Claude seems to always be away on work related trips. She begs him to take her with him but he insists that it's impossible. They play the game less and less. At one point she suggests they play the game in reverse. Naturally, she wants to see and touch her husband's body. She may have the psychology of a child but she's still hormonally coming of age. She's not even aware of what sex is but she craves it. He refuses, and acts as if it's an absurd request - "that would ruin the game".

While Claude is out of town one weekend she stays with his friends. Ida, who repairs dolls takes special notice of Marie. She also wants to touch and be near her. They share a bath, a scene which I've given a lot of thought. When Claude bathes and toys with Marie, he may not physically act out on any desires but I immediately got the impression that he was fetishizing. It's some kind of psychosomatic need to fondle and posses her as an inanimate object. When Ida bathes with Marie, my initial reaction is that it's sexual, but that could just be because I'm American, and bathing together isn't common practice. I think the purpose of showing this was to illustrate a contrast between a maternal figure bathing with Marie, and Claude who in comparison seems like he's hiding something insidious. Marie so wants to be touched that it doesn't really matter by who. The biggest difference with this bath is that Ida is participating - and also allowing Marie to participate where as Claude removes both from the equation so it's mechanical and borderline necrophile. It's possible that Ida cares for dolls because she doesn't have children of her own. My instinct tells me that mutual interaction and warmth are at the root of Ida's intentions. Whatever the case may be, this scene marks the beginning of the end for Marie's fantasy world.

When Claude returns Marie becomes more tenacious about being touched. She hangs on him and pouts when he withdraws. It seems she has now built a sexual appetite (though it really hasn't occurred to her). Claude becomes very terse and irritable, now he's losing interest even in playing their limited "game". His rejection is crushing to her. She was the most perfect desirable doll and now, what is she if not a perfect object? This is where the sentiment about her own doll could be applied. Worn-out but loved, Andrea is not a perfect doll but an irreplaceable one with purpose. The new dolls may be pristine and maintained but where would that leave Andrea? Marie is Andrea.

She begins to wander the grounds, the caretakers are her only companions. A masculine groundskeeper named Sergio catches her eye. She's fascinated by him but isn't sure why. It isn't long before the lack of attention from Claude drives her to linger near Sergio.

Here's the thing about Serge. He's really simple. His little cottage is simple, he tends to animals. He'll skin a rabbit, he'll shave a flea infested sheep, he has no problem doing things with his hands. While keeping a respectful distance initially, you can tell he thinks Marie is a hot little piece. When he entered to story I thought, "Thank God, Marie will finally get laid soon" - because she needs it and Claude is proving to be a wimpy little wet blanket.

Influenced by her interaction with Sergio, Marie tries to care for a sick sheep. Disregarding her false image of perfection, she dirties her prettiest dress. When Claude has company over for dinner and she shows up covered in dirt, Claude chastises her in front of their guests. Scolded like his daughter, not his wife. The look of hurt in Marie's eyes is overwhelming. Yet again she runs to the comfort of Sergio. Claude makes amends to soothe her hysteria, but he knows their relationship has changed. She's not what he thought she was. She may look like a doll but she acts like a woman. A psychologically damaged woman, but a woman. If that's what he wanted in a wife he wouldn't have chosen someone docile and child-like.

Claude goes away again and we witness one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie. He meets a little girl, no older than 8, offers her a doll in a exchange to play a "game". Ugh. I wasn't expecting his character to be taken that far, but he was. Any scrap of hope for Claude is gone forever. Creep City, population: CLAUDE.

Marie finds herself again in Sergio's cottage. He's attentive in ways her husband isn't, she likes it at first. Any kind of touching seems to excite her, she has no objections to the heavy petting. The film takes a sharp turn when Sergio's touch becomes carnal. She recoils into screams. The scene goes from erotic, to animalistic and forceful in seconds. She does NOT like the way Sergio manhandles her, throws her to the ground and does as he pleases. It's easy to forget that this girl is emotionally retarded. I don't mean to sweep the subject of rape under the rug, or justify it in any way. In this film, and let's bear in mind this is fiction, Marie becomes immobilized by desires she doesn't fully understand. She wants sex but doesn't understand sex. Early in the film I thought that perhaps in a cinematic dream-world, sex would be the cure and this would turn into a different kind of French film. That's far from the outcome of this this horrific encounter. She reaches for the nearest weapon and stabs Sergio in the back with a screwdriver and runs naked through the rainy forest crying hysterically. Completely out of control, she runs right into a tree branch and as simply as that, she falls to her death. I tried to avoid revealing the ending, but the image we're left with is so strange I simply cannot write about this film without discussing.

Cut to an undisclosed time in the near future. A teenage girl, dressed much more modern that we ever saw Marie, wanders into a different doll shop. She asks the owner about the bizarre life-like doll in the window. He says it's not for sale and that an old woman brought it to him saying it was her granddaughter, and that she "died from it". The girl asks "she died from being a doll?", the owner replies something to the effect of "I suppose, it didn't make much sense to me at the time". Then he asks if she'd like to take a look at any others, and she says "No thanks, I hate dolls". A poetic rebuttal to the real unasked question. The doll in the window appears to have a photograph of Marie super-imposed over it's face. Marie died from being a doll and is now forced to spend the afterlife in a frilly catatonic hell, or it least that's how it seems to me....

Claude has obviously moved on to much younger girls, realizing teenagers run the risk of challenging him with their own sexual identity when he simply wants to impose his on a doll-like form. A much more complex horror story than 'Don't Deliver Us From Evil' which makes it's intentions clear from the get-go. Sexual maturity, and all of the messiness that comes with it are at the core. I can't help but be reminded of 'Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles'. The prolonged sexual repression, the boredom of day to day life, the difficulty in maintaining an image, and finally a catastrophic sexual finale. The two characters are different sides of the same coin. Women who never found their voice, a lack of self-realization and individuality. Jeanne Dielman lost hers in a loveless marriage and became a slave to routine. Marie never even found hers with the death of her parents. Both defined by loss. Marie stagnated through adolescence taking comfort only what reminds her of youth. A caress from a father figure, a bath with a mother figure - but her desires are out of her control. Frightened and upset, as her virginity is ripped away from her she becomes violent. The one thing that connected her with childhood and to her dead parents is gone forever.

My initial viewing left me feeling disconnected with the choice to kill Marie. My second viewing offered a bit of perspective. This isn't the story of overcoming a great hurdle. It's a tragedy about faded innocence and the dangers old holding on to it too tightly. The distorted view of virginity as this untouchable prize. There are elements of girlhood that when applied certain ways are perceived as "sexy". Marie-Poupee shatters this image with it's coldness and delirious yearning for something intangible. The necessity to escape girlhood and become a sexual being. The two are not exclusive, a transformation must occur. Not for the sake of intimate counterparts but for personal growth and the ability to become a functional human being.

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I didn't intend on allowing a six month period to lapse without updating, yet here we are. Work has been all-consuming, which is positive, but as always I want to make more time for Atomic Caravan. It's still as important to me as it ever has been, and I'll try to be more diligent in my effort to diversify my time, but as always, I can't make any promises ;-)

1 comment:

  1. This film should really be as well known as Don't Deliver Us but I have a feeling the reason it isn't (at least in the places I've been looking) is that its virtually impossible to market it to a specific group of genre fans. Its far from a traditional "horror" film and its not exactly a straight-ahead drama either. Its one of those rare gems that manages to completely subvert and transgress any attempts to pigeonhole it. Its odd, more than a bit uncomfortable and ultimately profound. It makes total sense that the same director behind a film like Don't Deliver Us From Evil is responsible for this.