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Adapted for the screen by Colette, Pit of Loneliness is a sad tale of frustrated affection and desire in a 19th century girls' boarding school. Inadequate sub-title translations of the French outline a depressing picture of adolescent girls and their teachers in fertile, maleless isolation.
Olivia, attractive outgoing, and perhaps sixteen, enters Miss Julie's small school in the country, where she quickly becomes everybody's favorite. She discovers student loyalty is divided between Miss Julie and Miss Cara, an attractive co-directress of the school. The girls, aged ten to twenty, all in dismal grey uniforms and knee socks, correctly type Olivia as a probable Miss Julie supporter; Olivia not only supports, but falls completely in love with her heady, bewitching principal.
The overwhelmed girl finds herself the center of a confused interplay of secret attachments, disguised affections, and loyalty conflicts between teachers and pupils in a community where Miss Julie is an unwilling, latter-day Sappho. Miss Cara dies myteriously of an overdose of sleeping drops: was it suicide over losing Olivia's affections? Miss Julie leaves school, telling Olivia emotionally that her life has been a constant fight against letting her feelings triumph over her social conscience; that she has lost the fight, and rather than be descreet, prefers to go away. And Olivia rides off in a carriage with the school cook Victoire, thinking, understanding very dimly.
The film contains pathos, but not tragedy. The victims are squeezed in a vice of propriety and necessity for love, in a situation where propriety must control them. Colette unfortunately omitted any see-what-to-expect-of-secluded-girls'-schools moral, leaving just a story. While the characters are interesting only as general types in a unique plot Olivia'a story seems very real to one who has not first-hand experience.
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