Stéphane Brizé, who previously directed the excellent “The Measure of a Man,” has gone to Guy de Maupassant’s “Une Vie” for inspiration in making “A Woman’s Life,” the story of a woman in 19th Century France. It is ultimately a sad tale of what happens to Jeanne, sensitively played by Judith Chemia.
We meet Jeanne in lovely colors as a young woman being taught how to plant and nurture a garden. We subsequently follow the trajectory of her life, including her marriage to Viscount Julien de Lamare, played by Swann Artaud. The film progresses step by step to her later years, when events, disappointments and loss of money have sent her into depression and anger.
The director adopts a muted approach to telling Jeanne’s story. Scenes are episodic, some, such as happy memories, in joyful colors, and unhappy later ones filmed bleakly. There are flashes of memory throughout, and the director attempts to capture the ambiance of Normandy in the film’s time period.
It is sad to witness Jeanne’s gradual decline amid life’s blows, including her being estranged from her son, who upon growing up goes off to England and is constantly appealing for money to save him from his failed investments.
One portion that I found harrowing is what happens when she confesses to a priest her knowledge of a secret adulterous relationship. Spouting religious dogmatism, he presses her to tell of the deception going on, or otherwise she will be complicit in a lie before God. Her good judgment and feeling that telling would lead to utter disaster makes her keep defying the priest’s admonitions, with a result that he says he then must be the informant. Her instincts prove to be true, and it is gratifying to see Jeanne hold her ground in the face of the priest’s invoking the fear of God.
One is drawn into the story by the director’s approach and by the acting, although at the end, despite one little ray of hope in the form of a baby grandchild, one cannot help feel sorry for what has happened to the cheerful young woman we meet at the outset. A Kino Lorber release. Reviewed May 5, 2017.