Wednesday, May 3, 2017

More than you know: Stéphane Brizé's de Maupassant adaptation, A WOMAN'S LIFE

The title of Guy de Maupassant's first novel is Une Vie, which is also the original French title of the new film adapted from that novel by Stéphane Brizé and Florence Vignon and directed by Brizé. The title of the American release has been changed to A WOMAN'S LIFE, which does immediate disservice to both the film and its source novel by assuring viewers that this is "woman's picture." This will certainly guarantee less males in the audience and more females. The simpler "A Life" is so much more apt and generous, and though de Maupassant was more than aware of a woman's predicament during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, his choice of the non-gender title itself calls attention to the difference in experience had that titular life belonged to a man rather than to a woman.

M. Brizé's adaptation -- the filmmaker, shown at right, has earlier given us such excellent movies as Mademoiselle Chabon, The Measure of a Man, and A Few Hours of Spring (click and scroll down) -- is a masterful one, if very slowly paced. Action lovers be warned. But if you give yourself over to this leisurely, extra-ordinarily quiet movie, you may come away changed by having indeed experienced...
a life.

That life belongs to a young woman named Jeanne (played by Judith Chemla, shown above and below), whom we meet on the cusp of adulthood and then follow for two generations, as her life moves along, growing slowly and surely ever more out of her control.

But then, how could it not, since she has been groomed by her loving and sensible parents -- played respectively by French and Belgian icons Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Yolande Moreau (shown below, at right and left, with Ms Moreau seen again at bottom left) -- to learn little but how to garden, read and serve her husband.

We witness her marriage to and life with a pretty-boy rotter named Julien (Swann Arlaud, below, right), who, yes, manages to impregnate the maid and then offer up the usual apology of the time. (Not so very unlike those we're increasingly used to hearing these days.)

Her son appears to take after his father (if this sounds like an anti-male screed, it is more like a reflection of the male entitlement of that day), and Jeanne's lack of understanding of finances (and much else), coupled to her complete dedication to, first, Julien and then to her son, slowly begin to destroy her well-being.

Religion is given a good going-over, with one local priest pushing for forgiveness above all (hey, look at Jesus!), while his successor insists on the kind of truth-telling that proves utterly destructive to not only life itself but to the very sanctity of the confessional.

How all this turns out -- the final line, as often happens with de Maupassant, is a lulu -- is deeply sad but also oddly bracing, with one character reappearing unexpectedly to help our heroine as her mind and her money dissolves. The film's quiet, deliberate pacing and attention to detail exert their own charm and abiding reality. Stick with Une Vie, and Jeanne may very well brand herself on your memory -- by virtue of her very limitations -- as one of the movies' more memorable characters.

From Kino Lorber and running a lengthy two hours, the movie opens this Friday, May 5, in New York City at both the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Quad Cinema, and on the following Friday, May 12, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal and here in Miami at the Tower Theater.

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