“The Year of the Jellyfish” (L’année des méduses) by Christopher Frank (1984)
“Summer, the South of France…She is 18, less than perfect, and dangerous.” That was the tag line on the 1987 US poster of the erotic thriller The Year of the Jellyfish, adorned with a seductive photograph of its star Valérie Kaprisky, wearing a come-hither look and with arms crossed over her bare chest. Titillating and provocative.
In full-blown sultry mode, and in various states of undress for good measure, she plays Chris, a teenager on holiday in Saint-Tropez with her chic and clearly jaded mother Claude (Caroline Cellier). Chris spent her days on a private beach punctuated with a routine of sea, sex and sun, tanning topless (it is the norm there), nude swimming (lots of it), and cavorting. Her main goal on that sandy playground? Trying to catch the attention, and obviously more, of handsome Romain (heartthrob Bernard Giraudeau), the local Lothario, who is not above doing some pimping on the side, procuring beautiful young girls for a select clientele. But he stays immune to her shameless flirting and forceful attempts at seduction: he is more attracted to Claude, who, to Chris’s outrage, quickly let herself be seduced. Chris’s jealousy ignites a tantalizingly perverse and risky game of twisted manipulation. Hell bent on revenge, the venomous Lolita reveals herself akin to the jellyfish in the title. She can sting and leave her victims badly burned. Or worse.
Adapting his own eponymous novel, L’année des méduses, prolific veteran screenwriter Christopher Frank (who has notably worked with Jacques Deray, Alain Delon, Michel Deville, Costa-Gavras…) succeeds in conveying the spiraling destructive path of a young seductress who feels empowered by her sexuality and has no regards whatsoever for the consequences of her actions.
Released in France in November of 1984, the film really captured the mood of an era, while exposing a carefree way of life in vogue at the time. An unabashedly hedonistic ode to toplessness and the portrayal of an immoral temptress at the feverish dawn of her womanhood, it scored an instant hit in spite of mixed reviews and became over the years, if not a cult film, then certainly an enduring guilty pleasure.
The film solidified the 22-year-old Valérie Kaprisky’ status as a much in demand actress. Only six months earlier, at the 37th Cannes Film Festival, she had been a sensation for her frenetic performance in Andrzej Zulawski’s edgily overwrought The Public Woman. She had started her career with very small parts before headlining the 1982 soft-core opus Aphrodite, followed a year later by the highly publicized Jim McBride remake of Breathless with Richard Gere.
By the time The Year of the Jellyfish was released, Kaprisky had already made up her mind to steer her career in a different direction. She felt the need to change her image after backlash from the critics and pressure from increasing media scrutiny. She decided to stop doing nudity on screen. “First of all, I never liked doing it, but in the eighties it was often required for actresses,” she told an interviewer on French television in 1988. “At some point, the idea of being naked on a set was unbearable. I had had enough, and I wanted to turn a page.”
She also resented being identified too often with her characters. “People believed I was this femme fatale, but, in reality, I was only still a woman-child, and in fact very shy and demure,” she said looking back. She confessed to Elle magazine, thirty years after the film’s release, “I was perceived as a hysterical and provocative girl, but I was very self-conscious and convinced that to be successful, you had to be overexposed, and I was not prepared. If I had been, I would not have taken all this like an intrusion. In reaction, when doing interviews, I was blunt and outspoken.”
She credits eight years in therapy for helping her find a different, more Zen-like perspective on life and a renewed pleasure in being an actress.
If major movie roles have become scarce for her in the past decades, she nevertheless has continued to work steadily with an eclectic variety of directors: José Giovanni, Raoul Ruiz, Marc Esposito, Vera Belmont, Claude Lelouch…
In the recent years, she has been doing mainly television, guest-appearing as a guest in several successful series; she was also seen last year in the action comedy The Last Mercenary alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme.