Monday, November 20, 2017

Blu-ray debut for Jean Grémillon's final full-length narrative film, THE LOVE OF A WOMAN

For all his continuing love of French cinema of many kinds, TrustMovies had somehow managed to miss viewing most, if not all, of the work of a certain French filmmaker named Jean Grémillon. The Arrow Academy arm of Arrow Video has now remedied that with its release a few months back of Grémillon's final narrative film, THE LOVE OF A WOMAN (L'amour d'une femme).

Though this was one of his last movies, perhaps it's not such a bad place to begin an appreciation of both the man and his work. According to the excellent full-length documentary feature, In Search of Jean Grémillon, that is offered as a bonus feature on the disc, what we see in this film includes much that was vitally important to this unusual filmmaker.

According to so many of the actors, other filmmakers and especially the famous film historian and co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française, Henri Langlois -- all of whom we see and hear during this 96-minute documentary -- M. Grémillon (pictured at left) was a fellow who genuinely cared about, loved and understood women about as well as any male filmmaker you can name. This is certainly borne out by The Love of a Woman, in which that fine actress Micheline Presle plays a doctor new to the seashore town where the quite aged physician has only just retired.

Ms Presle (still alive at 95!) is one of those minor icons of French cinema, equally adept in comedy or drama (Devil in the Flesh, Donkey Skin, The Five-Day Lover) who graced international screens for more than 70 years. Combining beauty, intelligence and a kind of bone-deep savvy, she was particularly good at playing career women, and here, as the new doctor in town, she excels once again.

Her love of her job and her great skill at it is demonstrable from the film's start and only grows more powerful as it continues. This is of course despite the typical sexism of the town's males, which, to Grémillon's credit, is never overdone. It is simply there -- even via the film's other protagonist, who doubles as the love interest of our doctor. He is played by Italian star Massimo Girotti (below, left, whose career spanned Visconti's Ossessione to Ferzan Ozpetek's Facing Windows), and the actor manages to bring beautifully to life a man of very ambivalent feelings about work, women and family.

On the basis of but this single film, I'd say that Grémillon was a better director than screenwriter, because his dialog is sometimes a bit too obvious and pushed, as though he is trying to fit it all into a time frame that's simply too constrained. So he leaves it to his actors to bring that dialog fully to life -- and they do.

Style-wise, the filmmaker, who made a lot of documentaries in addition to his narrative films, graces this one with a kind of doc style that concentrates upon the life of the little island off Brittany where the film takes place. It's often a fascinating thing to see, and it adds to the core of truth the film captures. (A couple of the movie's sweetest scenes involve a pair of children and their pet lamb.)

The movie is remarkably feminist, too -- way before its time (the film was released in 1953). How the idea of a woman who loves both her work and her man, even as that man struggles to understand this duality, is brought to compelling life here. Sacrifice is inevitable, but how this occurs and by whom assures that The Love of a Woman is anything but simplistic or simple-minded.

From Arrow Video and distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group, the film is available now on Blu-ray and DVD -- for purchase (and I hope for rental, as well). Click here for further info.

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