9 March 2011 | lor_
Marlene Jobert's breakthrough role
L'ASTRAGALE was a major film success based on the autobiographical novel by Albertine Sarrazin, and showcased the talents of Marlene Jobert, making her the leading actress for gamine roles in French films for the next decade. Sadly, it has been all but forgotten, and remains entirely unknown in America.
Jobert became my favorite actress, period, after her next two hits, RIDER ON THE RAIN and Maurice Pialat's brilliant WE WON'T GROW OLD TOGETHER. She never "went Hollywood" and is today known, if at all, merely as actress Eva Green's mom.
But back in the '60s, after solid roles in Godard's MASCULIN FEMININ and Yves Robert's "Happy Alexander" opposite Philippe Noiret, she was chosen to personify Sarrazin in this powerful film. The book was hailed as a key feminist work (Grove Press paperback edition here in the U.S. has a lengthy blurb from Gloria Steinem's NY Times Book Review on the back cover), but had universal appeal, even credited as the inspiration for another prison adventure PAPILLON.
Title translates as "The Ankle-Bone", referring to what Anne breaks during a daring prison escape that opens the picture. She is aided by Horst Buchholz as Julien, who unfortunately is a criminal, and though he becomes her lover he's never around, stashing her with various friends.
What unfolds is a tale of survival, as Anne, in and out of the hospital and limping around on her wounded limb, drifts into a life of prostitution and suffers many a hard knock at the hands of men. It is not a man-hating exercise but life-affirming, largely successful due to the unique beauty of Jobert.
Her ability to project vulnerability and strength made her an iconic actress of the period -of limited range, but undeniable power. As a young gamine she struck a chord with European audiences the way Romy Schneider did a decade before (as Sissi in her Austrian hit movies), and was followed in succession by Isabelle Adjani and later Sophie Marceau and Audrey Tautou in the lovable gamine slot.
This was also a creative (if lesser-known) period for Buchholz, following his meteoric international success in such major hits as TIGER BAY, Billy Wilder's ONE TWO THREE and the great action role in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Besides L'ASTRAGALE he starred in an amazing "lost" movie LE SAUVEUR, no longer shown because it treads not so lightly on the "kiddie porn" borderline but is mandatory viewing if you're a fan of his.
Odd choice for director of this prestigious project was Guy Casaril, a journeyman helmer whose work is basically soft porn, notably such successful movies as EMILIENNE and PIAF. He also shot a couple of Brigitte Bardot vehicles, but L'ASTRAGALE is clearly his career highlight, sensitively but not sentimentally told.
Casaril's work has lesbianism or at the very least feminine bonding as a recurring motif, but in L'ASTRAGALE this theme from the novel is downplayed. Since the movie plays as a "slice of life" drama it has understandably become lost in the mists of cinema history, not fitting into currently popular genres, or boasting a well-remembered auteur or, regrettably, star.