Women wearing traditional men’s french suits waltz with female companions in evening gowns, in a glittering ballroom hidden away in the countryside. In the center of the floor are two ladies in dresses that trail on the floor as they move, cheeks pressed close together as they dance with ease among the others. This is the little world of Olivia— a world without male influence, a world in which the strongest love to be felt is between two women.
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In the seemingly restrictive setting of a Victorian-era girls’ boarding school, there hides a nest of deep love between many of its residents. Similarly restrictive is the genre and time period in which Jaqueline Audry’s Olivia was made—1951. This film seems to defy many expectations of gender, love, and sexuality as seen in the mid-century cinematic world.
In rooms dripping with classical opulence, from busts of greek goddesses to endless rows of leather-bound volumes, the titular Olivia becomes instantly enamored with her new boarding school. Even more enchanting than the lace curtains and elegant chandeliers that line the halls of the school is its headmistress: the eloquently academic Mademoiselle Julie. As Olivia falls deeper in love with Julie’s intelligence and grace, she garners the jealousy of Julie’s legally bound partner, Mademoiselle Cara. Plagued by a strangely inconsistent illness, Cara often throws fits at the knee of Julie, begging for the love she so freely gives her students.
Overwhelmed with infatuation for Julie, Olivia spends the film in an attempt to win her love. This effort often leaves her in tears, which we see by candlelight beside her bed. Yet, whatever glimpse of hope she can find, whether it be sitting next to Julie as she reads, or holding her hand on a train ride back from Paris, Olivia holds on with every bit of her heart.
Olivia daydreams in class often. She falls behind in her studies as a result. She his criticized for her daydreaming, She is aching always for the affection of Mademoiselle Julie. This reviewer especially admires and recommends the dreamlike scenes-- from illustrious balls to quiet studies by the fire, the school seems like an escape one would lust for.
The uniquely queer love triangle of Olivia marks it as a divinely feminine and enchantingly genuine film, in this writer’s view, and worthy of any study in LGBTQ+ history. Note: as many historical films often do, a few lines and scenes in this film contain outdated cultural depictions. These depictions do not take center stage in the film, yet may offend viewers.
From the francophile, to the vintage enthusiast, to the casual viewer in search of some rainy-day representation of LGBTQ+ stories, Olivia is a uniquely thrilling watch. This film is especially recommended to fans of black-and-white cinematography.
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For more information or to view this film, visit the OVID.tv webpage for OLIVIA.
Images courtesy of OVID.tv
About the Author: Margaret Rose Smith
Margaret Rose Smith is an aspiring writer and museologist currently pursuing a BA in Creative Writing and Art History at the University of Chicago. Born and raised in Chicago, she’s spent a large amount of time in the halls of the Art Institute, both to study the history of art and to gain inspiration for future writing projects. In her spare time, Peggy enjoys sewing, collecting vintage Donald Duck merchandise, and petting her two cats.