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  Year of the Medusa Hell hath no fury like a topless nymphet
Year: 1984
Director: Christopher Frank
Stars: Valérie Kaprisky, Bernard Giraudeau, Caroline Cellier, Jacques Perrin, Béatrice Agenin, Barbara Nielsen, David Jalil, Philippe Lamaire, Pierre Vaneck, Jean-Paul Dubarry, Betty Assenza, Hedwige De Mouroux, Charlotte Kady, Gill Matt
Genre: Drama, Sex, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Sexy, oft-topless teenager Chris (Valérie Kaprisky) spends the summer on the sunny beaches of St. Tropez with her mother, Claude (Caroline Cellier), trying to attract the attention of smarmy middle-aged Romain (Bernard Giraudeau). As it turns out, despite Chris' considerable allure, Romain only has eyes for Claude. For some reason Romain's open admission he seduces teenage girls and pimps them out to wealthy old men for fun and profit does not trouble Claude at all. On the contrary she finds him charming and fascinating and they embark on a steamy affair. Meanwhile Chris shares an awkward reunion with middle-aged (of course) writer Vic (Jacques Perrin). They had an affair last summer until Chris fell pregnant and had an abortion. Out of frustration Chris toys with married Vic's lingering affections and lures a young German couple into a threesome until Romain spurns her once too often.

Judging from L'Année des Méduses (Year of the Jellyfish, though more widely available as Year of the Medusa) and his sole other writer-director credit, Love in the Strangest Way (1994), Anglo-French novelist Christopher Frank was fascinated with stories where nubile but vindictive young women destroy smug, middle-aged bourgeois men. As a screenwriter Frank penned action vehicles for superstar Alain Delon, including For a Cop's Hide (1981) and Le Battant (1983), along with artier fare like Memoirs of a French Whore (1979) and the acclaimed The Most Important Thing Is Love (1975) in collaboration with Andrzej Zulawski. In the same year as L'Année des Méduses, Zulawski made La Femme Publique with Valérie Kaprisky who was quite the Euro sensation in the mid-Eighties, baring all in both films to frankly spectacular effect. More than a mere decorative presence, Kaprisky was an accomplished actress. While Hollywood did not know what to do with her beyond Jim McBride's infamous remake of Breathless (1983) with Richard Gere, happily she remains prolific in her native France.

Adapting his own novel, Frank opens the film as he means to go on, with the sledgehammer subtle sexual metaphor of jellyfish floating in the azure sea accompanied by a hilarious ranting Krautrock theme song by German punk princess Nina Hagen. One close-up on a pair of suntanned breasts follows another even before we reach luscious Valérie, who appears naked for most of the film. Thus setting a prurient tone not terribly different from all those silly St. Tropez set soft-core comedies Max Pécas made a fortune with in the Eighties only infused with shrill psychoanalytical pretension. Still it is worth noting Year of the Medusa was well received in France where Caroline Cellier won a César award for best supporting actress even though most sane women and mothers in particular might take issue with Claude's choice of romantic partner. It becomes obvious Chris was one of the many naïve young women Romain seduced then psychologically manipulated into prostitution. Yet the repellent Romain somehow convinces Claude he only has sex with underage girls for business while with her, it's love. Later he smugly tells Claude he understands what kind of person Chris is far better than she does. In other words, a heartless siren or Medusa figure who lures older men to their doom.

Tellingly Frank draws guilt-ridden seducer Vic as conflicted, vulnerable, even sympathetic while presenting schoolgirl Chris as confident, provocative and seemingly amoral using her sexuality like shotgun blast to claim multiple casualties with no thought to the consequences. On one level this soft-core soap opera is trashily enjoyable. Alain Wisniak's ominous synth pop score punctuates all Big Dramatic Moments with a laugh-inducing "ta-dah!" while Frank's histrionic camera tricks, like the three-hundred-and-sixty degree dolly shot while Chris howls over her dead dog, are similarly gigglesome. Pouting sexpot Valérie Kaprisky is stunning to behold yet her character is a middle-aged man's masturbatory fantasy dressed up with psychological pretensions. Vic's narration tries to cast Chris as a manipulative teen temptress repeatedly foiled by sagely misogynist Romain, culminating in a horrible scene where he more or less maintains she deserved to be abused and dumped because she is a spoiled little rich girl with neither charm nor substance. Any teenage girls viewing this, as unlikely as that may be, will likely be repulsed and with good reason. Since when did a sexual predator and self-confessed pimp get to play the voice of moral authority? Given the title is not Year of the Misogynist Asshole it would appear Frank subscribes to myth of the amoral man-eating Lolita overlooking any chance older men might project such fantasies to justify their lust. While the clearly psychologically damaged Chris seems intent on teaching both the men in her life and her mother a lesson, we never really learn what that is while the film gets bogged in trite observations about the gulf between old men and young women, mothers and daughters.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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