“A Women’s Life” opens with gardening.
Throughout the film, the outdoors will come to symbolize a place of refuge for Jeanne even as she encounters the various turmoils of what life is like as a woman, and the gardening is no different. There, in the soil, she has a place to work with the earth, something she truly understands. The landscape the camera pans over is classic European countryside, the epitome of Mother Nature as seen in 19th century paintings, and the perfect backdrop for Jeanne’s struggle with motherhood and wifehood.
The original title of the film in French is “Une Vie”, or simply, a life, but the addition of woman to the title in the wider release is vital because so many aspects of Jeanne’s life transcend the time period (not far away from our own) and allow modern women to find shadows of their own hardships within the beautiful wide shots of the countryside. Jeanne’s inability to communicate with her husband- an admittedly rather flat character of a cheating miser- rings truer than most of her interactions with other people in the movie, and their scenes, when they focus on Jeanne, are riveting. Jeanne is constantly making assumptions about what her life will be like, and it is darkly comical when she finds out how wrong she is, however intended this was by the director.
Jeanne is a fully fleshed character that emulates the tragic heroine of Greek myth, doomed to forever keep turning and finding darkness behind each corner. The further she is plunged from her comfortable ignorance, the more powerful Judith Chemla’s performance becomes, and it is a pity that the others in the film cannot match her. If not for Jeanne herself, the film would be too slow and all too French, but it is precisely the wondrous performance of the lead that carries this movie to completion as a marvelous portrait of unhappy marriage, woman as other, and woman as self.
Sephane Brize’s: A WOMAN’S LIFE, adapted from a classic French novel by Guy de Maupassant, will be opening in NY on Friday, May 5th (at the Quad and Lincoln Plaza) via Kino Lorber, and rolling out nationally from there.