Adapted by Stéphane Brizé (The Measure Of A Man, Not Here To Be Loved) from Guy de Maupassant’s seminal 1883 novel of the same name, Une Vie (A Woman’s Life) is a beautifully constructed costume drama, which despite being set in the 19th century, manages to be as fresh and as current as any social drama worth its salt. Staring Judith Chemla in the principal role, A Woman’s Life is able to break out of the rigidity of its time by offering a story which is as gut-wrenching in its storytelling as it is brilliantly relatable in its social realist aesthetic.
Chelma is Joanne, the daughter of wealthy landowners in rural France who until now has lived an idyllic countryside life with her parents, the Baron and Baroness Le Perthuis des Vauds. Not wishing to be separated from them, Joanne agrees to marry Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), a handsome yet penniless nobleman who is set to move into her childhood home to oversee her father’s finances and farming lands. However, things don’t quite turn out how Joanne would have hoped and she soon finds herself locked in a loveless marriage with the manipulative, philandering Julien.
Allowing the camera to linger over the protagonists in lengthy, and at times, dialogue-heavy scenes, Brizé does a fantastic job in depicting his characters in the most natural of ways. Whilst staying faithful to the original source material for the most part, the director is still able to break out of Maupassant’s deliberately pompous bourgeois exchanges by offering Joanne as a humble and deeply flawed woman whom we cannot help but sympathise with. Using deliberately contemporary filmmaking technique usually associated with his more social realist output, Brizé is not only able to make his audiences care about the fate of his characters despite the obvious class issues, but he almost makes them seem as though they belong to the world we live in today.
The brilliantly versatile Finnegan Oldfield (Heal The Living, Nocturama, Neither Heaven Nor Earth) is faultless in his depiction of Joanne’s wasteful son Paul who is hellbent on leading her into ruin just like his father before him.
While A Woman’s Life might seem to some as unnecessarily lengthy and even repetitive in its style, it is important to understand that the slowness and receptiveness are as much part of the story itself as are the more tragic aspects of the narrative. Like in his earlier films, Brizé understands his characters’ motivations more than most, and by allowing their stories to be told in this way, he is also able to make them more relatable to a modern audience. A truly fascinating film from a brilliantly sophisticated filmmaker who keeps on pushing the boundaries with every new production.
A Woman’s Life is out of Friday 12th of January