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Mystère Alexina
Mystère Alexina (1985)
  • Director:
    René Féret
  • Category:
  • Writer:
    Herculine-Adelaïde Barbin,René Féret
  • Cast:
    Philippe Vuillemin,Valérie Stroh,Véronique Silver
  • Time:
    1h 26min
  • Year:
In 1856, fresh from life with nuns in an orphanage school, Alexina Barbin comes to a coastal village in La Rochelle to teach the village girls. She is deeply religious. She shares the classroom and a bedroom with the young and vivacious Sara, with whom she falls in love. Alexina has another secret: her gender is mysterious. She and Sara begin a scandalous love affair, but Alexina seeks marriage and social acceptance. She discloses her secrets to the village priest, to her mother, to the bishop, and to the bishop's physician. After the church and court rule on her petition, marriage to Sara becomes Alexina's sole purpose and hope.
Cast overview:
Philippe Vuillemin Philippe Vuillemin - Alexina Barbin / Camille Barbin
Valérie Stroh Valérie Stroh - Sara
Véronique Silver Véronique Silver - Madame Avril
Bernard Freyd Bernard Freyd - Armand
Marianne Basler Marianne Basler - Marie Avril
Pierre Vial Pierre Vial - Priest
Philippe Clévenot Philippe Clévenot - Doctor Chesnet
Isabelle Gruault Isabelle Gruault - Josephine
Lucienne Hamon Lucienne Hamon - Hotel manager
Claude Bouchery Claude Bouchery - School inspector
Olivier Sabran Olivier Sabran - Doctor
Michel Amphoux Michel Amphoux - Hotel manager
Anne Cornaly Anne Cornaly - Alexina's mother
Vincent Pinel Vincent Pinel - A doctor

Mystère Alexina (1985)
"Mystere Alexina" is a highly underestimated movie.Although it is a true story,the facts it depicts were risqué and its plea for the right to be different has a contemporary feel.René Féret's directing was certainly influenced by that of Robert Bresson,but he occasionally shows a certain warmth which the master never allows himself.

Circa 1850: Alexina who spent her youth in a completely female world (a convent,then a training college)becomes a schoolteacher in a small village.She feels she's different.She does not have her periods.Worse,she falls in love with her colleague (a woman of course).Pretty soon,they become lovers ,as Alexina feels more and more the man in her/him.But one of their pupils (it recalls Wyler's "the children's hour";the difference is that here it is a true rumor) reveals their

relationship.Alexina loses her job and has a physical exam.It would seem that she is an hermaphrodite.There's the rub.The nineteenth century society is not prepared to accept such a "monster" .Victor ,"the wild child" (see Truffaut's movie) was not dangerous for the society-he had appeared earlier in the century- because he was sexless and not really clever.

Alexina wants to marry her/his lover.But the world in which she lives is still dominated by religion and puritanism.The biology lesson is revealing:when she tells her pupils about the frog reproduction ,Alexina does not mention that the male inseminates the eggs (and however it happens in the water).An impressive scene shows Alexina driven out of the confessional by the priest after she's told him the "truth".

Philippe Vuillemin gives a cesar-caliber performance.He is absolutely mind-boggling :even more credible as a woman!

Give this movie a chance!It deserves it!
If ever serious viewers would like to remember one of René Féret's most personal films "Mystère Alexina",it would definitely be for the acting prowess of French comic strip artist Philippe Vuillemin.He is absolutely incredible as the lead character who is confused about his/her sexuality.Philippe Vuillemin is so good that he outsmarts easily acting abilities of other actors especially that of Valerie Stroh.For this film René Féret has taken us to medieval times.Those were the times when French society,like most of the other societies was prudish in nature.In a way,this film is a serious take on sexuality in ancient times which was fiercely guarded.One of the most important questions raised by this film concerns ignorance about sexuality.It must be ascertained whether human sexuality can be dissimulated.Science comes to rescue when religious authorities are challenged to stake a claim about lead character's sexuality.For a film which might appear as a sensual love story to many viewers it is quite an achievement to minimize its risks of achieving an easy to please end.This is precisely the virtue of this film directed by one of French cinema's most under rated authors.