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France, early 18th Century. Madame de Maintenon, wife of Louis the 14th, has founded Saint-Cyr, a boarding school outside of Paris for the daughters of destitute nobility. Girls of all ages are gathered throughout the kingdom and brought here to acquire the language and manners befitting to their rank. For Madame de Maintenon, what begins as an amusing and heart-warming form of cultural charity will, over the years, become a source of nightmarish anxiety and eventually religious fanaticism. When the blooming young women present the court with a play writen for them by Racine, Saint-Cyr is brought to the attention of the king's entourage of rapacious young men in need of "fresh blood". The ensuing wave of wedding proposals only serves to exacerbate the growing sensual tension of adolescence that is wreaking havoc in Saint-Cyr. As a result, Madame de Maintenon turns to father Godet des Marais, an uncompromising Lazarist priest, who shrouds Saint-Cyr in a cloak of disciplinarian asceticism. But will it ultimately bring Madame de Maintenon and her girls salvation or damnation?
It’s hard to feel sorry for Madame de Maintenon. She doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, nor does she weep herself. At no moment does she realize she’s failed. She goes from one certainty to another, from utopia to madness. Lacking insight, she creates a tangle of contradictions between her submission to the king and her own wishes, between her fear of hellfire and her thirst for power.
Isabelle Huppert, Actress