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Plot: one hot summer, a lot of beautiful people, romance for everyone.

Muriel Catalá made a splash with the World War II drama The Savior (1971). That much was certain. It bombarded her to an instant sex symbol and she was primed to become an international star. If her debut made one thing clear it was that Catalá looked good traipsing around in the French countryside, doubly so when she’s naked. After something deadly serious it’s completely natural that la Catalá would go for something lighter. Like the best of French cinema from around this period this too is pervaded with that magic realism. This is probably what Monika (1974) would have looked like had it been French and focused more on the various romantic entanglements and the countryside instead of leering on Gloria Guida’s remarkably well-formed ass. How do you follow up something as incredibly poignant and tear-jerkingly tragic as The Savior (1971)? By indulging your innermost nostalgia and that romantic longing for those simpler carefree days of youth and those lazy hazy days of summer. For her debut Faustine et le bel été (or Faustine and the Beautiful Summer, pour ceux qui ne parlent pas français) Nina Companéez chose exactly that sort of quiet meditation or wistful contemplation on all the beautiful things that make life worth living.

To understand how Faustine and the Beautiful Summer came to be we need to look at Nina Companéez’ past. She got her start as an editor and writer under Michel Deville in an association that encompassed nine movies between 1960 and 1971. Later that year Companéez would venture back into the pittoresque environs of Montreuil-sur-Epte in Normandy where she cut her teeth under Deville but this time to film her own creative endeavour. Surely this idyllic region speaks to anybody’s imagination and certainly that of a creative. Then there’s the Epte river itself that famously inspired Claude Monet's 1899 oil painting The Waterlily Pond and to a larger extent his extensive Water Lilies collection in its entirety. Aided by a serene piano score from Bruno Rigutto (as well as as renditions from Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) and oneiric photography capturing the warm palette and vivid colors of the pastoral French countryside - as well as the often naked bodies Muriel Catalá and Claire Vernet - in all their unspoiled beauty; Faustine and the Beautiful Summer is tale about the beauty of youth, the magic of first love, and the inevitable loss of innocence. To put it more succinctly, it’s about that nostalgic and romantic longing of days past. While history has recorded the Isabelles, Adjani and Huppert, to be the actual and most enduring stars by a very wide and considerable margin, there’s no doubt that Faustine and the Beautiful Summer was designed primarily as a vehicle to showcase Muriel Catalá and her mouthwatering disrobed form. This, first and foremost, begs the question: who was Muriel Catalá and why was she so dreadfully important?

Muriel Catalá was born in Paris in 1952 and blessed with a fragile, natural beauty. She often played Lolita roles in domestic sex comedies and coming-of-age dramas. Around these parts she known for her stunning debut in the World War II drama The Savior (1971) from director Michel Mardore. It was a role that Isabelle Adjani tested for but didn’t end up playing and here the two were finally united. Faustine and the Beautiful Summer marked la Catalá’s first collaboration with director Nina Companéez and that partnership would extend into The Edifying and Joyous Story of Colinot (1973). Soon Catalá found herself mixed up Italian exploitation in The Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973) (with an all-star Euroshlock cast of Anne Heywood, Ornella Muti, Martine Brouchard, and Claudia Gravy) and similar nudity-heavy roles followed in the German co-produced comedy First Time with Feeling (1974) and the thriller Verdict (1974). Marvelous Muriel was wide-eyed, full-bodied, and disarmingly natural in her naked uninhibitness. It’s surprising that Catalá didn’t end up working with fantastique specialist Jean Rollin, general madman Michel Lemoine, shaman-turned-filmmaker Mario Mercier, or master of subversion Joël Séria who’d appreciate her innocuous beauty and simmering carnality. Catalá had the good fortune of sharing the screen with Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Donald Pleasence, Sophia Loren, and Horst Buchholz. She also became an unfortunate victim of typecasting and was primarily offered roles that revolved more around her naked form and less about acting. Truth be told, Muriel was an exceptionally beautiful girl but a strikingly bad actress. Not that that ever stopped anyone from having a career. Oh, Muriel. What a star you would’ve made.

In the summer of 1970 wide-eyed, idealistic 16-year-old Faustine (Muriel Catalá) spends the summer not with parents in Saint Tropez but at the estate of her grandfather Henri (Pierre Plessis) and her grandmother (Andrée Tainsy). Of the four seasons, summer is her favourite. Faustine loves nature, grew up close it and loves nothing more than enjoying it in every way she can, where and whenever possible in the way nature intended her. One day on one of her sojourns she catches a glimpse of her next door neighbours, a well-to-do, artistically inclined family living in an opulent villa. There she sees Jean (Maurice Garrel), his two sons Joachim (Francis Huster) and Florent (Jacques Spiesser), aged 18 and 25, as well as his second (and much younger) wife Claire (Claire Vernet) and their 6-year-old daughter Marie (Valentine Varela). Also living in the villa are Jean’s brother Julien (Georges Marchal) and his two daughters Camille (Isabelle Adjani), who holds a torch for Florent, and Ariane (Marianne Eggerickx, as Marianne Eggerikx). Discovered spying one day Faustine is invited to spent the rest of her vacation at the villa. There she catches the eye of amateur poet Florent and the libertine Joachim – with both of whom Claire finds herself in the throes of incestual desire - and strikes up a friendship with Camille and Ariane, the latter drawn to peasant Haroun (Jacques Weber). While being courted by Joachim, Faustine develops an infatuation with Jean, a man old enough to be her father. Over the course of that idyllic summer everybody in the house experiences the magic of that first kiss, blooming love, untamed passion, and the inevitable heartbreak that follows…

Isabelle Adjani was born to an Algerian father and German mother in 1955 in Gennevilliers, a northwestern suburb of Paris. Her role as Camille was one of the minor parts she played prior to starring in Claude Pinoteau’s The Slap (1974) that François Truffaut saw, who in turn casted her in The Story of Adèle H. (1975). Her work with Truffaut exposed her to an international audience which led to the crime thrillers The Tenant (1976) from Roman Polanski, The Driver (1978) from Walter Hill, and Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of F. W. Murnau silent horror classic Nosferatu (1922). Adjani is a five-time winner of the César Award for Best Actress, a two-times Cannes Film Festival's Best Actress award winner for the Merchant Ivory film Quartet (1981) and Possession (1981) (for which she won one of her five César Awards) as well as the first French actress to receive two Oscar nominations. From 1989 to 1995 Adjani was in a relationship with decorated actor Daniel Day-Lewis and was later engaged to electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre. In mid-July 2010 Adjani was made Knight of the Legion of Honour and a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2014 for her artistic contributions to French cinema. Then there are Claire Vernet, Jacques Spiesser, Francis Huster, Valentine Varela, Marianne Eggerickx, Nathalie Baye, and Isabelle Huppert. It seems that just about everybody was able to build an extensive and lasting career on the back of this harmless piece of fluff. Everybody, except Muriel.

For whatever reason (probably having to do with distribution at the time) this is sometimes erroneously categorized as a comedy but that would be a bit facile. It has nothing in common with the Italian, German, or Danish sex comedies of the day. There are no outright comedic situations and none of the sexual permutations are painted as funny. More than anything Faustine and the Beautiful Summer is a veneration of nature, in all of its many breathtaking facets, and a celebration of the exposed female form within it. Especially the first act is an exaltation of Catalá as she daydreams in the golden wheat fields, navigates the verdant forests, bathing in the clean water of the serene rivers and ponds, and lounging in the comfort of the lush meadows. This section in particular often has the feel of a fantastique but never ventures into that territory. This is not Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1974) after all. Director of photography Ghislain Cloquet never fails to capture the beauty of la Catalá, Adjani, or any of the other girls present. While Faustine and the Beautiful Summer has no outright bad dialogue Catalá’s "I haven't allowed you to caress my back" is easily the movie’s most memorable line. As a romance this is far more straight forward than the wartime drama The Savior (1971) and it’s fairly obvious why a rising star as Muriel Catalá would be attracted to it. Her role starts out as fairly passive and peripheral, she got to do what made her famous (get nude) and had the chance to share the stage with some promising young talent. Equally understandable is that she would forge onward with Companéez after this. There’s no denying that Faustine and the Beautiful Summer is as light as a feather but that doesn’t diminish or negate that it’s absolutely beautiful to look at. The palette of colors alone makes it worth viewing. It might not be a fairytale but it damn well feels like one – and that should count for something.

It was screened out of competition on the 1972 Cannes Film Festival where it shared a bill with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil, and Federico Fellini’s Roma, among many others. In the company of such illustrious and celebrated innovators of cinema perhaps Faustine and the Beautiful Summer was a bit too light and dreamy for its own good. Regardless, director of photography Ghislain Cloquet would go on to work on Juan Luis Buñuel's Expulsion Of the Devil (1973) and Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979). For Nina Companéez it pointed towards a long and prosperous as a director. She would only helm two more theatrical productions before moving onto television, where she has remained since. And Muriel? Well, a decade after big screen debut her career hadn’t gone anywhere in particular. Perhaps there’s a point to be made that she was no Ewa Aulin, Birte Tove, Lise-Lotte Norup, or a Gloria Guida yet she was able to be part of a classic, cult or otherwise. Understandably she bowed out of the profession she tried a good ten years of her life to break into, unceremonious and disappointed. In that time she made enough of an impression never to be forgotten by those who know her, yet for whatever reason she has always remained one of the more unsung starlets of that decade. Muriel, marvelous Muriel, wherever you are. We see you, we know you. Your career might have amounted to nothing but a footnote in cinematic history but your roles in The Savior (1971) and Faustine and the Beautiful Summer are forever etched in our memory.

Plot: two teen girls, one hot summer, a lifetime of blasphemy and heresy.

It was really Jean Rollin who paved the way for the French fantastique. Not by some grand design or clever promotion but rather the accident of circumstance. When The Rape of the Vampire (1968) hit cineplexes across the country it did so during the student riots, general - and worker strikes opposing the Charles de Gaulle administration. In other words, it was the only thing in town. However, It was the follow-up The Nude Vampire (1970) that would consolidate Rollin’s oneiric visual style. Suddenly every two-bit producer and director with a few spare francs and some croissants was scrambling to launch their own fantastique, erotic and otherwise, and follow Rollin’s lead. Of all the imitators that inevitably followed only three have stood the test of time: Mario Mercier, Bruno Gantillon and Joël Séria.

Whereas Mercier was a real-life shaman whose Erotic Witchcraft (1972) and A Woman Possessed (1975) felt more like occult rituals captured on celluloid rather than formal narratives; in contrast the careers of Gantillon and Séria followed a similar trajectory after a single horror outing. Both men transitioned into other more marketable genres before graduating into television. Gantillon had his mesmerizing Girl Slaves Of Morgana LeFay (1971) and Séria had his iconoclastic and irreverent Don’t Deliver Us From Evil. Also not unimportant was that that year saw the release of offerings as diverse as Hammer’s Lust For A Vampire (1971) and Twins Of Evil (1971), Jesús Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971), the Belgian-Canadian co-production Daughters Of Darkness (1971), and the El Hombre Lobo breastacular The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971). If there ever was a year to premiere this sort of erotic horror, 1971 was the year of choice.

Coinciding with the witchcraft and Satanic Panic cycle of the seventies Joël Séria’s irreverent coming of age tale Mais nous ne délivrez pas du mal (or Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, internationally) isn’t merely a tale of the sexual awakening of two impressionable young girls under the guise of an occult horror. More than anything else it is a scathing and damning indictment of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, the laissez-faire attitude of the bourgeoisie and the injustices of the French social hierarchal system. Loosely inspired by the Parker-Hulme murder from New Zealand in 1954 and Séria’s memories of his own Catholic upbringing Don’t Deliver Us From Evil was banned in the Fifth Republic on charges of blasphemy and heresy. Séria’s debut feature was a fairytale that remains little seen outside of Eurocult circles and that’s a pity. Even 50 years after its original release it has lost none of its power. More importantly it was the French precursor to Juan López Moctezuma’s Alucarda (1977) and Fernando Di Leo’s widely misunderstood and incendiary satire To Be Twenty (1978) with commedia sexy all’Italiana lolitas Gloria Guida and Lili Carati. That Séria abhors Catholicism (who in the right mind could disagree with him?) should be fairly obvious as the title is a slight alteration from a line of the Pater Noster prayer.

Anne (Jeanne Goupil) and Lore (Catherine Wagener) are two post-pubescent Catholic schoolgirls living in the rural province of Anjou. Both are 14, neighbors and best friends, and both come from affluent, conservative, aristocratic families. Both are bored and confused with the hypocrisy they witness at their convent boarding school and within their own families. Anne’s parents are the Count de Boissy (Jean-Pierre Helbert) and the Countess (Véronique Silver) who have their own interests and leave her in the care of gardener Gustave (René Berthier). One night Anne reads erotic literature she stole from one of the nuns and the two girls solemnly vow that they will live their life together, in service of Satan, from now on. After a particular gloomy sermon from the local priest (Serge Frédéric) at mass the two denounce their faith, mock the clergyman, and begin their journey into wanton depravity. When Anne’s parents leave for a two-month holiday they sent her to live with Lore’s parents, monsieur Fournier (Henri Poirier, as Henry Poirier) and madame Fournier (Nicole Mérouze). United for the summer, the two are free to commit as much mischief as they could possibly want.

Anne reads the misanthropic, misotheistic poetic novel The Songs of Maldoror from Comte de Lautréamont and les filles initiate themselves in the dark arts. Anne begins torturing small animals, commencing with her pet cat and graduating into canary-poisoning and sparrow-strangulation. In those lazy, hazy days of summer the two girls explore their own sexuality, experiment with lesbianism, and the all-too-easy seduction of mentally challenged cowherd Émile (Gérard Darrieu). In lieu of getting what they want the two commit arson and when a motorist (Bernard Dhéran) turns the tables on them during a game of seduction the two take to cold blooded murder. Anne and Lore consecrate their union in a Black Mass ceremony wherein church artefacts are desecrated. When a commissioner (Jean-Daniel Ehrmann, as Jean Daniel Ehrmann) is assigned to investigate the case the girls fear that they will be separated. The two decide to commit one final act of defiance during the fall term school play. To a wildly enthusiastic audience the girls dramatically recite part of Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil before committing self-immolation in the ultimate act of mockery.

Understated. If there’s one to describe Don’t Deliver Us From Evil it’s that. Joël Séria is content to merely observe as the girls descent from youthful mischief into full-blown profanation and cold blooded murder. That Don’t Deliver Us From Evil is irreverent and iconoclastic is evident. The detached, documentary-like camerawork and quiet, folkish score serve brilliantly to create a false sense of security. It starts out like every other French coming of age feature and only the subtle hint here and there provide clues that not everything is what is it seems. There’s a whole lot more boiling beneath the surface, some of which becomes only clear upon multiple viewings. It dabbles in the general territory of Jean Rollin and Bruno Gantillon’s Girl Slaves Of Morgana Le Fay (1971), but Don’t Deliver Us From Evil is wholly its own beast. The enduring ability of Don’t Deliver Us From Evil to shock audiences doesn’t lie so much in what it shows (it’s surprisingly low on both blood and gratuitous nudity) but rather in the profundity of its implications. Suggestion, when wielded in the right hands, is probably the most formidable weapon. Adding immensely to the overall ick and sleaze factor is that Jeanne Goupil and Catherine Wagener (21 and 19, respectively, at the time of filming) truly do look like unspoilt minors. The brunt of the nudity falls on Wagener, but Séria would have Goupil in a state of constant undress in his oddball romance Marie, the Doll (1975).

By 1971 France had been pervaded by existentialism by philosophers Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Simone de Beauvoir. In a post-World War II the movement rose to prominence as a response against Nazi despotism. Don’t Deliver Us From Evil arrived at just the right time to benefit from the lesbian hysterionics following Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, the advent of erotic vampire horror in continental Europe, the women’s liberation movement as well as the looser, permissive mores following the Summer of Love. The societal circumstances and socio-political climate were right for something like this to materialize. Joël Séria was a proverbial crusader hellbent on dismantling the French church and state.

We would be remiss to mention that Don’t Deliver Us From Evil immediately found its place in cult cinema history by being presented at the Directors' Fortnight, in parallel selection of the 1971 Cannes Film Festival and allegedly being banned the land of ‘Liberté‘ on grounds of blasphemy. The banning remains somewhat contentious as we weren’t able to find any substantial evidence to support said claim. Exposing the hypocrisy of the church is never a good idea anyway. With his following features Séria took to thoroughly dismantling the state and the French national identity. To do that with silly comedies of all things makes it all the more poignant. Obviously Séria had an axe to grind with his country, culture and traditions. If anything, without Don’t Deliver Us From Evil there would be no Vampyres (1974), no Satánico Pandemonium (1975) and certainly no Alucarda (1977). Not bad for a little shocker over half a century old.