A Woman’s Life review: (Une vie) tells the story of one young woman’s struggle in 19th-century France.
A Woman’s Life review, Jazmine Sky Bradley, LFF 2016.
A step away from director Stéphane Brizé‘s typical feature film style and content, A Woman’s Life (Une vie) tells the story of one young woman’s struggle in 19th-century France.
Adapted from Guy de Maupassant‘s novel, Judith Chemla stars as Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds, a quiet, shy young lady happily whiling away her days with her parents, pottering around the garden and tending to her mother (Amelie‘s Yolande Moreau). As a single woman, Jeanne expects to be married off, which are her parents’ intentions when the attractive Julien de Lamare (Swann Arland) arrives to stay. Although clearly uncomfortable with Julien’s attention towards her, Jeanne agrees to the arrangement, and quickly becomes pregnant. As with any pregnancy, Jeanne’s life is about to change forever, but is she prepared to deal with everything laid out in front of her?
Chemla gives a pleasing performance as Jeanne, a woman stuck in her repressive world. While distant and introverted on the surface, she feels free and comfortable enough in private moments with friends and family to truly let go, with her smile and laughter instantly lifting the scene. Moreau is another standout; the stereotypical matriarch, controlling her husband and daughter, gently and from a distance.
As with British directors’ fascination with the past, Brizé has taken a part of French history and delved beneath its surface (although not too deeply). The attention to detail in costuming, props, styling and language is beautiful, as is the cinematography and naturalistic lighting. He also has a certain way of framing the characters, particularly Jeanne, that welcomes the audience into the scene; there are very few long shots, with a large proportion of the film seen through mid shots and close-ups. This gives us a feeling of ‘knowing’ Jeanne, whether we recognise her life, her characteristics or personality traits, or the problems she faces. Brize creates an intimacy between the voyeur and the subject, but it doesn’t feel rude or prying.
Aside from this, A Woman’s Life doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the historical drama genre. Formulaic in its story-telling style, we follow Jeanne as she tackles her loveless, convenient marriage, raising her son, looking after her elderly parents, all while attempting to sustain her family’s farming business. All is not well and we can see it on her face, in her eyes.
A Woman’s Life, while predictable, allows Chemla to show off her skill, her precision in perfecting Jeanne on screen – a lady under pressure to provide for everyone whilst getting nothing in return.
A Woman’s Life review by Jazmine Bradley at the London Film Festival 2016.
A Woman’s Life plays at the London Film Festival. It is currently awaiting a UK release date.