Written and directed by Christopher Frank
At the Harvard Square Cinema
L'ANNEE DE Meduses, The Year of the Jellyfish, is a second installment in what promises to be a new genre--or perhaps a twitch or movement--in French cinema: "the beautiful psychotic girl on the beach" film. It was introduced to American audiences last year by Jean-Jacques Beneix in his film adaptation of the bestseller 90 Degrees in the Shade. While the resulting film, Betty Blue, was the tale of an artist struggling against a world of assholes, Frank's story is that of a teenager named Chris (Valerie Kaprisky) struggling against the sterile adult promiscuity and warped class relations which overshadow life on a French beach.
Director Christopher Frank's ripoff of Beneix's film draws on a better established tradition--the "nubile sexy teenagers on the beach" movie. The French add a new twist to this tried American tradition: breasts.
A realistic reflection of current fashion on French beaches, L'Annee de Meduses might haved been playfully retitled Boobs on the Beach for a more successful American release--though subtitles occasionally obscure the unsheathed mammaries.
But there is a worse punishment inflicted by subtitles, if one understands French one must endure the excruciating dialogue twice. When the dialogue is good, the translation ruins it, and when the dialogue is bad, the translation makes it worse.
Releasing the film under both its French and English titles is perhaps a ploy to lure American moviegoers who would like to speak French but don't. But it also preserves the metaphor in the title: "meduses" which means jellyfish in French is also the man-killing monster of Greek mythology.
Dark-eyed sex kitten Valerie Kaprisky plays the teenage vamp out for the blood of musclebound gigelo-pimp Romain (played by French hearthrob Bernard Giraudeau). The premise, not a plot but a torturously enacted idea for one, is a humourous example of self-conscious Freudiana: at the beginning of the film, Chris saves an eight-year-old boy from the deadly clutches of a field of jellyfish--read vagina--and in the end pushes superstud Giraudeau into the deadly metaphor.
Betty Blue is a sexy, feminist film by a male director, reminiscent of the great "woman's films"--like Mildred Pierce and Camille--which Hollywood produced at its height. L'Annee de Meduses is merely a vapid testimony to the boredom of life--and film--on the beach. If a director really wants to set drama on the beach, he had better pull a strong character out of the deep like Jaws.
The camera work is so bad that the movie doesn't even work as a travel advertisement for the Riviera (a true disaster in a beach movie). Par for the course in TV dramas and box-office disasters, even the badly shot landscapes look too sublime for the characters. Perhaps here is the supposed redeeming feature: Frank succeeds in proving what a boring, plastic heap of expensive cars and coppertoned bodies the Riviera has become.
In the noble tradition of beach movies, Meduses exemplifies what UV B does to one's mind as well as one's makeup. It's tits without titilation and sexploitation without sex.