Olivia (aks The Pit of Loneliness) (1951): Jacqueline Audry’s Outre Tale of Lesbian Love and Desire (LGBTQ, Lesbian)

Jacqueline Audry directed Olivia, a daring tale of forbidden lesbian desire in a boarding school, based on the 1950 semi-autobiographical novel by Dorothy Bussy.

Teenager Olivia arrives at a finishing school in France, which differs from her former restrictive English boarding school in seemingly being more friendly and welcoming.

The pupils in the school are divided into two groups, those devoted to the headmistress, Mlle Julie, and those who follow Mlle Cara, an emotionally manipulative invalid obsessed with Mlle Julie.

Olivia becomes a favorite of Mlle Cara who shows her an album of photos of the school’s past. When Olivia admires a girl in the photos named Laura, Mlle Cara becomes angry and withdrawn.  It turns out that Laura was Mlle Julie’s favorite pupil.

Later on, when Olivia hears Mlle Julie reading “Andromaque,” she begins to fall in love with her. Mlle Julie then takes Olivia to Paris on a trip.

Shortly after Laura arrives, she and Olivia become fast friends. Asked if she is in love with Mlle Julie, Laura says that she loves her but she is not in love with her.

Later, Laura hears an argument where Mlle Cara accuses Mlle Julie of not loving her back, and being neglectful of her. Mlle Cara expresses her jealousy towards both Olivia and Laura, claiming that both love Mlle Julie.

That night, before going to bed, Mlle Julie passes Olivia’s room and kisses her on the eyes.  Olivia responds by passionately kissing her hands which Mlle Julie tries to play off as overly affectionate.

Around Christmas, Laura leaves the school again confessing to Olivia that she can’t bear Mlle Cara’s jealousy and warning Olivia to watch out. Unfazed, Olivia goes to Mlle Julie and declares love for her.

At the Christmas ball, Mlle Julie kisses another pupil on the neck in front of Olivia and promises to join Olivia in her room and give her something sweet. However Mlle Julie does not visit Olivia, explaining the following morning that she wished to protect her. Olivia is deeply disappointed and cries herself to sleep in Mlle Julie’s room where she is later discovered by Mlle Cara. Enraged, Mlle Cara attacks her physically while expressing her disappointment. When Mlle Julie enters the room to see them fighting, Mlle Cara accuses her of going into the girls’ rooms at night. After their fight Mlle Julie announces her departure, leaving it in the care of Mlle Cara.

The night before she leaves, Mlle Julie confesses that she loves Olivia. Shortly after, she screams for Olivia to call for help, as Mlle Cara had died from overdose of chloral. Mlle Julie is heartbroken over her death; she was the only person she had ever loved.

In the end, which is symmetric to the overture, Olivia leaves school on her carriage, indicating that maybe Mlle Julie kept her word about leaving the school too.

As Mlle. Julie, Edwige Feuillère was nominated for the BAFTA Best Foreign Actress Award.

Cast
Edwige Feuillère as Mlle. Julie
Simone Simon as Mlle. Cara
Marie-Claire Olivia as Olivia Dealey
Yvonne de Bray as Victoire
Suzanne Dehelly as Mlle. Dubois
Marina de Berg as Mimi
Lesly Meynard as Frau Riesener
Danièle Delorme as Une ancienne élève
Rina Rhéty as Signorina
Tania Soucault as Georgie
Elly Norden as Laura
Nadine Olivier as Cécile

Note:

TCM showed this rarely seen film on Sep 1, 2020, part of its series, “Women Make Film.”