"worthy of a widespread play in arthouse cinemas, although this is unlikely given its challenging nature"
Written by Stéphane Brizé and Florence Vignon. Based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant. A Woman’s Life has been compared to a complete painting of Ingres. It tells the moving tale of a young noblewoman who’s lost her ideals. Brize was last seen in Cannes with “The Measure of a Man.”
A great attention to detail is delivered in the film, that’s crisply shot by Antoine Héberle, who manages to half capture what would otherwise be completely obscured. Also, he lurks around the outside of the frame. The end result, an entire portrait comes to life.
The restricted framing is a choice, which forces us to become aware of what’s happening around the characters, as well as what might restrict them in the confined spaces they are in. And a handheld camera helps to create a sense of life in all its raw and vulnerable glory.
Distinctive, common threads travel throughout the films of Stéphane Brizé. One such thread is Jeanne’s “deflowering,” caught on a dimly lit close-up. Her discomfort evident but regretfully passed over by her new husband.
Madeline Fontaine chooses costumes to suit the tone of each character. Bright colours at the start, that later change to ones of a darker hue, as the weight of dreariness increases.
Brize shifts between past and present, something which is not included in the book. It does, however, prove a useful functioning device, when cinematically it takes on the form of rich prose. Thus creating an emotional depth, carrying bold statements.
Tormented love is set against the backdrop of restrictive social and moral codes of marriage and family in 19th century Normandy. After completing her convent education a young aristocratic Jeanne marries one Julien de Lamare, a local Viscount but little time passes before he shows himself to be a mean and unfaithful husband.
As she steers her way through his persistent immorality, the strain of her family and community, the joys and woes of motherhood, and the perceptions she has of the privileged world she lives in, it shatters in front of her eyes, like sharp splinters of glass.
As winter draws in, so does Jeanne’s obvious suffering. She feels isolated and cold. Her husband does not permit her to heat the rooms, and Rosalie (Nina Meurisse), her only friend, and the maid starts to withdraw. Although both women are mothers, Rosalie is a consequence of being raped by Julien.
A typical “accusatory scene” is avoided, and instead replaced by a murky long shot taken at night, where Jeanne screams out to be left alone, as Julien chases after her. Although the scene is short, there is a sense of unease, as the camera cuts closer and closer.
Judith Chemla’s apt change in body language means she is able to transform herself from convent schoolgirl to grandmother with relative ease, and without a change in filters or a heavy application of make-up, having said which Garance Van Rossum should be praised for her make-up.
It’s just a shame that the producers chose to run with the English language title of “A Woman’s Life,” as opposed to the more accurate one “A Life.” The inclusion of gender, in my opinion, effects the quality of the story.
Yes, it is undoubtedly about a woman, whose status is different from that of a man but her life is worth a large sweep of a paintbrush, and not a small one.
A Woman’s Life is worthy of a widespread play in arthouse cinemas, although this is unlikely given its challenging nature.