Valérie Kaprisky Faces Sexy Oceanic Malaise in Saint-Tropez
DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER FRANK/FRENCH/1984
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MAY 10, 2022/COHEN MEDIA GROUP (VIA KINO LORBER)
The topless beaches of Saint-Tropez are beautiful to meander the hours away. Just ask eighteen-year-old Chris, a savvy and sly girl who eventually finds herself competing with her single and obviously well-off mother, Claude, for the attention of a man. That man is handsome, charming, laid back, owns a boat, and is a total pimp. Literally, he collects young girls off the beach, seduces them, and pimps them out. This movie comes down to being about mother/daughter tension over the affection of this individual.
It’s hard to know what to make of Year of the Jellyfish, or what to do with it. It’s defiant of genre, that much is moderately certain. Which ordinarily would be a good thing, insofar as being “difficult to pin down” is so frequently an artistic virtue. But the first hour+ of Year of the Jellyfish drags along, defying any plot that may try and coalesce. By default, this portion of the film would classify as straight drama. The last act, however, fully embraces the erotic thriller tenets that it earlier so nonchalantly blew off until no one cared.
With all the waiting for writer/director Christopher Frank (adapting his own novel for the screen) to upshift and get things going, one inevitably gets to wondering just who these characters are, and how is it that they can simply flitter away weeks on end at a posh resort such as this. (It’s possible that I missed such passing details; there are a lot of distractions in this movie…).
Every one of these people seem thoroughly bored with everyone and everything else around them. Some bear a moral resemblance to the opportunistic Ellis from Die Hard, but without the cocaine or the charisma. For them, business is business. Take, for example, the personable but repugnant aforementioned pimp, Romain. Ellis uses a fountain pen, Romain uses young girls- what’s the difference?
Perhaps burying the lede, Valérie Kaprisky (who played opposite Richard Gere in 1983’s Breathless remake) really owns this thing… for whatever that’s worth. Via emotional suppression, she wields a fatale’s beguiling deadliness by way of a male gaze wet dream. As the lonely and sex-seething Chris, Kaprisky plays her character’s pain. That pain is inflicted early in the film when, while rescuing a flailing boy in the ocean, is stung on the left breast by a jellyfish. The scar, she’s told, will never go away. It doesn’t. Her pain, though, can be channeled…
If Kaprisky steals the film, it’s from the improperly top-billed Bernard Giraudeau, who plays the scuzzy Romain. Giraudeau is quite adept at fleshing out his character’s manipulative evil while still telegraphing a need for meaningful love. The actor, though, cannot compete with the film’s true selling points, of which are myriad- all youthful, of a spry physicality, free of tan lines, and absolutely obviously cast in movie. Those who appreciate “imperfect” body types on screen needn’t bother with this Year.
Romain, however, is all but immune to the surface charms of young women. It’s Claude who catches his eye. As Claude, Caroline Cellier earned some legitimate acclaim for her performance in this otherwise well-dressed and Frencher-than-French faux-classy exploitation flick. Cellier gives a mostly quiet performance as the conflicted and resigned mother who’s still got it.
The jellyfish problem at Saint-Tropez is real. When those creepy translucent buggers come around in the water, they really can be everywhere. Writer/director Frank seems to think that there’s some profundity in his narrative use of the creatures. This imposed profundity is not dissimilar to the oh-so-knowing way that Romain, devoid of context, insists on referring to Chris as Salome. Eventually, someone demands an explanation of his little renaming. The one he provides is lame. But of course the screenplay opts to make more of it. Eventually. After a time.
At a thoroughly decompressed 110 minutes, Year of the Jellyfish seeps along like the unintentionally silly sun-soaked slog that that it is. It’s not a particularly attractive movie in terms of vibe and mood, although it really ought to be. But, it’s not completely without its charms. If the heapingly garish and entirely natural mid-‘80s aesthetic doesn’t catch your eye, the staggering amount of female nudity cannot help but do so. Most certainly, the music by Alain Wisniak and the searing songs by Nina Hagen will catch your ears. The film’s use of Hagan’s scorched-earth sounds are without question its most compelling aspect.
The Blu-ray looks nice for what this movie is. (Versus what it thinks it is). Unfortunately, there are no extras on this disc. Considering that Year of the Jellyfish is the twenty-third highest grossing film of its year in its native France, and that it is Kapeisky’s most popular film on Letterboxd, one would think that some film historian somewhere would have a commentary to offer up. Alas, no. Such is too often the case with Cohen Media…. Curiously, the Blu-ray’s contemporary marketing blurb prominently dubs the film a “Eurotrash cult classic”. To paraphrase Ellis again, for anyone so inclined after this review to go in for Year of the Jellyfish, I think you can handle this Eurotrash.