La femme enfantReleased in:
France, West GermanyStarring:
Pénélope PalmerTags: bathing girlSummary:
Klaus Kinski has done a lot of strange things on screen, but he may never before have lain smiling as his face was whipped with colored petticoats or have ministered to a constipated cow. These are some memorable moments from Raphaele Billetdoux's ''La Femme Enfant,'' a film that is otherwise on the dull side. It depicts a half-formed love affair between an 11-year-old French girl and a mute, middleaged peasant gardener. And it follows a predictable pattern, even if its emphasis is distinctly on the strange.
''La Femme Enfant,'' which opens today at the Lincoln Plaza, takes place mostly at the cottage of Marcel (Mr. Kinski), which is in marked contrast to the drab quarters young Elizabeth (Penelope Palmer) shares with her parents. The parents, who run a small-town beauty parlor, spend their mealtimes silently in a dreary kitchen, whereas Marcel's place is filled with domestic wonders. He keeps a pet bunny, hangs herb bouquets from the ceiling, covertly knits - he's making Elizabeth a sweater - and simply does wonders with potted ferns.
Together, Marcel and Elizabeth enjoy the kind of innocence possible only in movies, particularly in French movies. They lie together and pat one another sweetly. They play games, as when Elizabeth hops on the table and pretends she is feeding imaginary barnyard chickens. Marcel draws Elizabeth an old-fashioned bath, boiling the water on his stove and brushing it with (presumably) aromatic branches. They cuddle together in a duck blind, which is surrounded by a beautiful pond and linked to the world by a tiny isthmus and a fragile gate. Settings like this provide all too apt images of the characters' primitive, isolated love.
One day, at school, Elizabeth is forced to recite Heine's ''The Lorelei.'' ''This wonderful young woman is the cause of this man's downfall,'' the teacher announces, explaining the poem. ''She sends him to his doom.'' Elizabeth is upset by this, as the omen-conscious viewer may also be. Sure enough, the tale then moves inexorably toward tragedy.
Miss Billetdoux, a young French novelist, has written and directed the film in a style as incomplete as the love affair itself, never fully expressing whatever it is she means to suggest through this mysterious relationship, and dwelling rather too fondly on the story's inherent ambiguities. When the film is arresting at all, it works more fully on the visual level than any other. There is a good sense of the small town in which the story is set, and of the country atmosphere in which the gardener carries out his simple, earthy duties. Sometimes, as in the cow scene, this point is carried a bit too far. - Janet Maslin, nytimes.comNude scenesAdded: