Year of the Jellyfish

For a while, especially in the late 1950s-early 1960s, when the regulations on nudity in films began to go lax, you could count on the French to release movies that wrapped some socially redeeming storyline around a series of teasing nude scenes.

Often these were vehicles for the reigning sex kitten of the day, such as Brigitte Bardot or Romy Schneider. The filmmakers might very well claim that these movies had important things to say. Well, maybe. Not many audiences cared about that.

The French are still up to it. Of course, we’re all jaded now and there are few barriers that have not been crossed in some movie, somewhere. Which makes the appearance of a movie like Year of the Jellyfish almost a nostalgic event. Probably its writer-director, Christopher Frank, would say that he has some high-minded ambitions. Fine. But frankly, the main attraction and raison d’etre here is the abundance of naked female flesh.

This year’s sex kitten is Valerie Kaprisky (though she may get healthy competition from Beatrice Dalle, of Betty Blue). Kaprisky was similarly sexy and kittenish in the unfairly overlooked Richard Gere version of Breathless a few years ago. This story just happens to be set on the French Riviera, where it seems very few of the sunbathers bother to wear much fabric, if any at all. This means there are many opportunities, all utterly essential to the story, of course, for Kaprisky to doff her duds and slither across the beach.

This exposure occurs during a vacation that Kaprisky is enjoying with her mother (Caroline Cellier). They meet a mysteriously moral pimp (Bernard Giraudeau), who turns out to be the one man who doesn’t fall under Kaprisky’s charms; we watch her ruin the lives of some other hapless saps with her minxlike ways.

There are only two problems with any of this. The first is that Year of the Jellyfish would be a bad, confused movie with or without skin. The second is that Valerie Kaprisky (though she has nice skin) is a thoroughly uninspiring actress. She’s just not interesting enough to convince us that she has it in her to do these terrible things to men. Caroline Cellier easily outclasses and outacts her; she’s a lot sexier, for that matter.

None of which will keep Year of the Jellyfish from making money, since a show of flesh will generally guarantee box-office interest. This sun-soaked, shameless throwback just proves the durability of that truism.

First published in The Herald, July 12, 1987

Not exactly a hep review, but you can’t always be cutting-edge with the comedy. Director Frank died of a heart attack in 1993, age 50, according to IMDb. Kaprisky didn’t have a lot of high-profile pictures after this, but the U.S. Breathless is a memorable picture.

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