A Woman’s Life (Une Vie) – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Stéphane Brizé
Writers: Stéphane Brizé (scenario), Florence Vignon (scenario)
Stars: Judith Chemla, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Yolande Moreau
The film is an adaptation of a novel by Guy de Maupassant. Set in a small chateau near the Normandy coast, in the first part of the nineteenth century, the heroine is one Jeanne Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla), the only child of le Baron and la Baronne Perthuis des Vauds, who are elderly parents. At the beginning she is a young woman who has had a sheltered upbringing in the family chateau, which is surrounded by an assortment of twenty odd farm holdings. The opening scene is of the father and daughter involved in planting out seedlings in a vegetable plot near the chateau. It is a slow process. Jeanne’s closest connection with the less privileged world outside the chateau is by means of a young maid Rosalie. Into this innocent life a young nobleman of suitable pedigree arrives. However, his father has regrettably already gambled away his family fortune. Jeanne falls under his spell and they marry. All his bodily parts are in fine working order as he rapidly proves. He also turns out to be a first rate bounder. The film then relates the fate of the participants over the next thirty years or so. It moves excruciatingly slowly.
Chemla is undoubtedly impressive as she deals with the highs and lows (of which there are many) of Jeanne’s life. In addition, the entire film is carefully and beautifully shot, for instance the scenes of the seedlings being planted and watered, the meals being served at table, the characters playing a type of croquet and other insights into the daily social life. But every detail is lingered over to such an extent that the mind wanders and concentration is lost. As the film proceeds, the desire for it to come to an end begins to dominate. The fate of Jeanne becomes secondary to the ponderous revelation of the the plot.
The film does however have its admirers as it won an award at the Venice Film Festival 2016 so others must have found it of some substantial merit. But do not be surprised to be disappointed.