Stéphane Brizé (director)
12 January 2018 (released)
11 January 2018
A WOMAN’S LIFE is a compelling adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's first novel 'Une Vie', by award-winning Director, Stéphane Brizé. The story follows Jeanne, an idealistic and privileged young woman, who returns home to live with her parents after finishing her convent schooling.
Set in nineteenth century Normandy, the film spans the next three decades of the protagonist’s life, charting the loss and betrayal she suffers at the hands of those she loves and trusts the most - her husband, family and friends.
Written by Stéphane Brizé and Florence Vignon, they succeed in producing an engaging, historically sensitive script. Words are used economically, and in many scenes, the pauses are as instructive as dialogue.
Judith Chemla, gives an absorbing performance as Jeanne, and received a César Award
nomination for the role. She manages to fuse childish naivety, inner resolve and hopefulness - the latter of which, protects her from buckling under the weight of disappointment and loss.
Whilst this is very much Chemla’s film, she is complemented by an ensemble cast who impeccably inhabit their characters, rendering them well-rounded and believable when their own secrets and fallibilities are gradually revealed.
Critical to maintaining realism is the credibility of the aging process on screen. Whilst the costume, hair and make-up on A WOMAN’S LIFE is very well executed, the plausibility of the passage of time, inevitably rests with the actors.
Fortunately for the film makers, Judith Chelma and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, who plays Jeanne’s father, are particularly convincing as they age throughout the film. Both actors deploy subtle changes in gait, manner and movement to great effect.
Unconventionally, for modern cinema, the film is shot in aspect ratio 1.33, which shortens the frame to a virtual square. The framing is subtle but it works in illustrating Jeanne’s physical and emotional confinement – and the narrowness of her world.
The use of handheld camera work is refreshing in the context of a period drama, and creates an intensity and intimacy of setting, lending it a contemporary sensibility whilst maintaining a classical look.
Flashbacks and flash-forwards, are used liberally, and whilst this technique could distract or confuse in someone else’s hands, under Brizé’s direction, the flashback edits successfully move the story forward, whilst imparting key character information. As a stylistic device, it also gives a sense of momentum that may have been absent if it had been structured chronologically.
Coming full circle the film ends with Jeanne filled with hope and expectation. There is no resolution in the final scene, only an image of Jeanne now middle-aged, and a pale shadow of the optimistic young woman she once was.