Sorry, but Are Damsels in Distress Really ‘Endangered Species’?
When one imagines a rendezvous with someone, it generally has a romantic feel to it. This particular “Rendezvous with French Cinema“, part of the ongoing showings at Lincoln Center, begins with what looks like romance and doesn’t quite match up to the premise. Our weary protagonist, Joséphine, walks through her life with heavy steps and deeply mournful eyes, the camera never letting us forget how much she is suffering. First and foremost, this is a story of abuse and how the people around contend with the knowledge of it. While Joséphine can sometimes be a frustrating character, she is deeply entrenched in the cycle of domestic abuse which seems to completely befuddle every other person in the movie.
From her weak father- who does an abrupt and confusing 180 at the end of the film that will really cause you to wonder if it’s the same guy you have been watching the whole time- to her mother, who seems to waver between condemning her for choosing an abusive partner and blaming her husband for not protecting her from said decision, Joséphine does not have a lot of support. Even the neighbor, who is preoccupied with his daughter’s pregnancy and impending marriage to a man thirteen years his senior in the wackiest choice of subplot yet- very French, if you ask me- offers her instead of help, a cigarette. This movie will be incredibly frustrating for anyone who’s undergone abuse, especially since laughs in the movie come as window-dressing in the subplots that serve only to…remind us that life can be stressful even when one is not being subjected to endless suffering? This movie ends with some resolution, but more is given to us about the characters who garnered the least interest – and Joséphine, the unfortunate star of it all, is given a ten-second bookend where we see that she is now pregnant.
Perhaps that demonstrates new beginnings, or it’s just more hardship lumped on top of a woman who was given little to do in this movie other than suffer. That certainly is not an endangered species of the female character; nor are any of the other women. In another life, we could have watched a movie where a damsel is not ultimately rescued and some depth is shown. This is not that movie.