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Plot: French peasant girl encounters mysterious man in the woods

Before becoming a filmmaker Michel Mardore - the nom de plume for Michel Jean Guinamant - worked as a critic for Positif, les Cahiers du Cinéma, Les Lettres Françaises, Lui, Pariscope, Cinéma and Le Nouvel Observateur. For many years he contributed film criticism to the radio station France Inter (Le Masque et la Plume) and he’s regarded as one of the foremost film critics in the country. He also wrote a handful of novels in the sixties and seventies and worked as a photographer. Leading man Horst Buchholz was an actor that primarily worked in German television and cinema. He was a fixture in World War II movies of various stripe. Buchholz appearead in offerings as diverse as The Magnificent Seven (1960), John Sturges western take on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), Umberto Lenzi’s macaroni war epic From Hell to Victory (1979), and Roberto Benigni’s Academy Award winning historic drama La Vita è Bella (1997).

Receiving an “introducing” (or rather “for the first time on the screen”) credit was Muriel Catalá. Catalá, who played some Lolita roles in French sex comedies and coming-of-age dramas, was often cast for her dashing looks. In Michel Mardore’s World War II drama The Savior (1971) Catalá debuted in a role that Isabelle Adjani auditioned for but didn’t end up playing. Catalá and Adjani did end up working together on Faustine and the Beautiful Summer (1972), the directorial debut for Nina Companeez. The turning point for Catalá came when she appeared in the period drama the Nuns of Saint Archangel (1973) with Anne Heywood, Ornella Muti, Martine Brouchard, and Claudia Gravy. In the decade that she acted she shared the screen with Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Donald Pleasence, and Sophia Loren. A good portion of her earlier roles tended to focus greatly on her physical attributes while she was actually tolerable as a comedic actress. Had Catalá been offered something different than comedies and coming-of-age dramas she probably could have acted long than she did. That isn't to say that she was the French Gloria Guida or a star-in-the-making the way Edwige Fenech, or Barbara Bouchet were. She could probably have carved out a career as a giallo babe or as a supporting actress in Italian and Spanish genre cinema. As limited as an actress as Muriel was not even she deserved to end up in the muck of exploitation quite the way she did. No wonder she quit acting.

In the summer of 1943 somewhere in the South of German occupied France young peasant girl Jeanne Lambert, who everybody simply calls Nanette (Muriel Catalá), finds a slightly injured but strapping soldier named Claude (Horst Buchholz) walking in the woods one day. He claims to be an Englishman looking to get in contact with local forces of la Résistance. Coming from a family of Pétain supporters Nanette is initially reluctant to offer help to the foreigner, but agrees to hide him out of sight in one of the more remote barns on the family farm. Her father (Roger Lumont), mother (Hélène Vallier), and brother are far too occupied with the farm to pay her any mind. Claude introduces Nanette to the intellectual arts and their conversations challenge her limited worldview. As she tends to his wounds and brings him food a bond starts to develop between the two. As time goes by Nanette finds herself increasingly drawn to the beautiful and worldly Englishman and soon she uninhibitedly enjoys being naked in his presence. She offers her body to him at various points but Claude never reciprocates her bodily affections. Some time later Nanette introduces her mysterious houseguest to monsieur Flouret (Henri Vilbert), the local councillor and a known supporter of the Allied Forces. Claude promises to whisk her away to his far-away home in Great Britain once the war has ended, so that the two can finally enjoy their lives together. Then one day Claude tells Nanette out of the blue that he’s ready to put his secret mission in motion, and with that he promptly disappears as a thief in the night leaving the young maiden with a nigh on irreparable heartbreak.

Embittered she betrays the Englishman to monsieur Monette (Michel Delahaye), a known Nazi collaborator, in an act of self-preservation and vengeance bearing consequences so far-reaching that Nanette is barely able to foresee at such tender age. One day the sounds of explosions and gunfire render the peaceful silence of the countryside. Nanette is swiftly captured by SS soldiers and without much of an explanation brought before their commanding officer. When she lays eyes upon the officer it is him, Claude; the man who she believed to be an Englishman. Claude, ever so eloquent, explains to young Nanette that she has committed two grave crimes. First, she betrayed a hero to the enemy. Second, she is now complicit with the Nazi as she assisted German forces in annihilating hidden maquisard troops and assorted Résistance fighters among the populace of her inconspicuous and sleepy farming village. As a final act of betrayal Claude orders Nanette to instruct the execution of the entire village; including her parents, and even monsieur Monette, now no longer useful to the Germans. With a gun pointed at her head Nanette is left no other choice but to indulge Claude’s sadistic bout of Faustian corruption and she’s soon reduced to a sobbering mess from all the horror.

Twenty years pass and a distinguised-looking automobile rolls into the remodeled village. A sharply-dressed businessman disgorges from the expensive vehicle and shares that he loves the quiet serenity that the region is known for. A local (Jean-Pierre Sentier) informs the man about the history of the region, how the entire village was razed to the ground during World War II and had to be rebuild, and how he inherited an old family farm quite by happenstance when he met his wife. The man introduces the suave stranger to his demure and shy wife Nanette (Danièle Ajoret), now ravaged from age and from silently brooding over that one cursed day in her youth. The three engage in respectful chit-chat over a bottle of wine until it dawns upon Nanette who this swanky gentleman is. Barely able to pour the last glass Nanette storms away leaving her husband without nary an explanation. She returns brandishing a shotgun and as Claude begs to forgive her for what he did in the past, Nanette vows to right that one immeasureably terrible wrong of her youth. “For you, Englishman!”, she utters as she coldly shoots Claude who dies in dismayed silence.

The most interesting aspect of The Savior is that an actual historical event served as the basis for Mardore’s screenplay. On 10 June 1944 a regiment of German soldiers under command of major Adolf Diekmann massacred 642 civilians in the town of Oradour-sûr-Glane, in the Haute-Vienne region of France, and subsequently razed the entire village to the ground. After the war Charles de Gaulle visited the remains of Oradour and named it a national monument. De Gaulle ordered a rebuild of the village nearby. In 1953 the new Oradour-sûr-Glane was completed with the remains of the original remaining a historical site. What exactly led to the purge has never been truly explained as it was overshadowed by the Dilice, Czechoslovakian purge of 10 June 1942. It is widely believed to be a retaliation against a Resistance bombing just two days earlier, on 8 June 1944, that killed a colleague (and personal friend) of Diekmann. The Savior might be a drama but it primarily serves as an indictment against the atrocities and the horrors of war. Nothing is more terrible and ravaging than war and how it pushes otherwise good people to become immoral monsters. The Savior makes a very strong argument.

Muriel Catalá is ravishing in her debut role as nubile peasant girl Nanette. It’s a very physical role and that it required a fair bit of nudity at least gives credence to the idea that Catalá was serious about her craft. For the longest time Catalá was cast in coming-of-age dramas and sexy comedies and she never was able to quite make it. The Savior is a tour de force for Horst Buchholz. It was screened on the Cannes film festival in 1970 with both Muriel Catalá and Buchholz attending. The Savior was prescient how culture would evolve in decades to come and how its ugly ideology would rear its head once again. It’s a frightening piece of foreshadowing if there ever was one and it has lost none of its power. The Savior is low on action and World War II is always far in the background, but the picture it paints is damning. It is a protest against the machinations of war, of the politics that profit from it and all the lives it shatters in the process. It constantly looms on the horizon. The ghosts of war always come back to haunt us. It was bold screenplay, even for the 1970s – and The Savior has lost nothing of its power or the relevance of its message. It’s as topical now as it was then. If there ever was a European equivalent to Dalton Trumbo’s Vietnam war epic Johnny Got His Gun (1971), or an antecedent for Summer of '42 (1971), Sophie's Choice (1982), or The Reader (2008), this is it.

It has been five long years since Cape Noire unconspicuously released her “Ad Nauseam” debut on an unsuspecting world. We had just about given up on ever hearing something from the enigmatic Paris, France electro/triphop diva again until “Javel” (French for ‘bleach’) quite unexpectedly turned up in our social media feed. A lot can (and will) happen in five years and just when we thought Cape Noire had retired her cape to the vestiaire she strikes back with “Javel”. Just like its illustrious predecessor “Javel” is 5 tracks or about 15 minutes of smooth, catchy triphop with a pulsating electro bend. One French newspaper dubbed her “gothic electronic” in 2015 and that is perhaps the most accurate way of describing what Cape Noire sounds like in lieu of actually hearing her yourself. There are worse ways of spending 15 minutes than in company of Parisian fashion icon Cape Noire.

For the last couple of years we feared that the curtain had fallen over Cape Noire. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The mysterious blackcaped musician returns with “Javel” after a 5-year exile. Just like on “Ad Nauseam” the question on everybody’s mind is, “who is Cape Noire?” and the answer is obvious and evident to those in the know. What is certain is that Cape Noire is a versatile and experienced performer who has been a mainstay in the French pop – and rock world at least since the early 2000s. As a musician Cape Noire has tried her hand at a multitude of genres before taking on her current alter ego. That Cape Noire even extended beyond the initial “Ad Nauseam” EP is cause for celebration in and of itself. “Javel” builds upon the aura of mystique of the debut and cements that Cape Noire is one of the most fascinating new voices in the world of electro, industrial, and triphop. Cape Noire is the sound of the future…

In case there’s any doubt “Javel” sounds like an illicit lovechild between “Pretty Hate Machine” Nine Inch Nails, Kosheen circa “Resist” with bluesy vocals à la KT Tunstall. It’s amazing just how close to Sian Evans that Cape Noire sounds. Now even moreso than on “Ad Nauseam”. Instantly laying waste to any doubts opening track ‘The Prey’ has a bouncing beat and reassures that “Javel” is a continuation from the first EP. ‘Till It’s Over’ borrows not only part of the title but also a chorus line from Lenny Kravitz’ ‘It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over’. ‘Geometric Love’ opens with a romantic piano sure to make you think Cape Noire is going to get her Vanessa Carlton or Tori Amos on. ‘Kiss Of the Virgin’ strays the widest from anything Cape Noire has done previously. Only after almost 2 minutes of just piano and vocals the drum machine kicks in. It’s the closest thing to an actual ballad you’re likely to hear from Cape Noire. Just like “Ad Nauseam” before it “Javel” is catchy, soulful, and danceable. There are the occassional darker moments and melodies, but things never get as harrowing, dissonant, and ungentle as, say, Chu Ishikawa but neither does “Javel” ever succumb to forcing itself into any subdued pop hooks present just below the surface .

So far Cape Noire has persisted with the EP format but we’d love to hear what she could come up with the ebbs and flow within the context of a full album. At the quarter of an hour “Javel” is over before you know it. If we were to split hairs it could be noted that the piano doesn’t feature quite as prominently as it did on the first EP. The vocals on the last two tracks are somewhat more nasally than in the first three. The production is virtually identical to that of “Ad Nauseam” but everything is a little fuller and warmer sounding. If “Javel” is testament to anything, it’s that Cape Noire is more comfortable in her niche. “Javel” possesses a great focus and the hooks are catchier than ever before. For those who keep track of such things, the artwork of both EPs is identical – except that the dominant color on “Ad Nauseam” was black whereas here it is white. We wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Cape Noire ends up ghostwriting for other Francophone artists (we’d love to hear what she could write for Jamie-Lee Smit, for example) and we’d love to hear Cape Noire tackle dub techno, progressive electronic, or even ambient. Hell, we’d love a Cape Noire piano-pop record. It would probably sound something like “Rabbits On the Run” or “Liberman”, and that’d be wickedly awesome.

We’re looking forward to hearing in whatever direction Cape Noire decides to move from here. It would be interesting to hear what she could come up within the full album format or whether she’s going to perservere with EPs for the time being. It’s good having Cape Noire back after a five-year hiatus and it remains a question for the ages why the mainstream hasn’t picked up on her yet. Cape Noire would go over well over alternative festivals, high-end dance temples, as well as goth clubs. The beauty of Cape Noire is that there’s something for everybody. “Javel” was very much worth the five-year wait but we can only hope that Cape Noire will return sooner rather than later with the follow-up. A release like this only intensifies the mystique surrounding Cape Noire and her music. Whether her insistence on anonymity is a boon or a bane to the overall enjoyment of her music is entirely up to the individual listener. Good having you back, Cape Noire.