A Woman’s Life Screen 14 articles

A Woman’s Life

2016

A Woman’s Life Poster
  • A great writer like De Maupassant can create dramatic texture from such circumstances by delving deep into the protagonist’s head. Brizé is certainly a talented filmmaker, but this is his first period costume drama, and the emotional complexity that usually characterizes his work gets suffocated by fidelity to a straightforward tale of woe. It’s a blessed relief when one’s worst assumptions about how the movie might end aren’t confirmed, but that’s a barren variety of catharsis.

  • Philosophical themes float throughout A Woman's Life like buzzing bees around spring flowers (Brizé uses numerous shots of flowers as an analogy for Jeanne's delicacy), but the film seldom reconciles them into more than overt expressions of Jeanne's despondency. Her victimization is compellingly conveyed, but as to what Brizé intends her suffering to suggest beyond the mere fact of said suffering is left hanging.

  • The tale of worldly affliction and spiritual redemption is, unfortunately, merely illustrated; Brizé pays more attention to the tasteful costumes and the alluring settings than to the drama or the images. The performances are muted as well, as if to link formality and misery, but the view of the milieu’s hypocrisy and constraint is bland and passionless.

  • Brizé has made the sort of film that wins plaudits for preferring the “modest detail” to the “grand gesture,” to borrow from one trade paper review—a formula, replete with its quiet reverence of that “modest detail” that I’ve seen repeated at least several hundred thousand times since I first started making a practice of reading film criticism. Less often does one read why this is necessarily to be preferred,.. The dour A Woman’s Life looks like exactly that—hidebound even in its unorthodoxies.

  • To squeeze in all of the information and still stay within a two-hour running time, Brize has had to adopt a kind of shorthand language, featuring the novel’s most relevant highlights. This may do justice to the book and its intentions, but not entirely to its keen, precise, richly imaginative perception of the characters and the period.

  • An unexpectedly moving Maupassant adaptation and smart caméra-stylo exercise.

  • A Woman’s Life is constructed as a long reminiscence, and it’s this fluidity that rescues it from seeming overly forlorn... Brizé’s film is based on an eponymous novel by Guy de Maupassant filmed twice before, and it’s thanks to the author that the narrative is suffused with subtle yet piquant moral commentary.

  • What saves this from being a dull downer is the lightness of touch in the direction and performances, the spontaneity of the dialogue as characters discuss dress designs or household expenditure. As the title ought to suggest, this is a work very much concerned with the quotidian accumulation of little moments that comprise a life, even if it’s not an especially unusual one.

  • Brizé makes much of Jeanne’s relationship with nature and her moods as they change with the seasons. His dedication to expressing the way in which Jeanne’s soul is ravaged via savage backdrops is impressive. A startling scene which places the handheld camera over still porcelain white, blood splattered corpses is eerily effective and haunting.

  • Maupassant's final twists echo Brizé's insistence that human decency should transcend class. The ending is a joy and a heartbreaker, but what lingers from this revelatory life is that compact world Jeanne inhabits, and how each tragedy, each happiness, and each everyday gesture together accrete into the woman we discover again and again.

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    Film Comment: Kristin M. Jones
    May 03, 2017 | May/June 2017 Issue (pp. 37-41)

    The complex temporal structure is a new direction for Brizé, and his elliptical style is more pronounced than in previous films... Emphasizing Jeanne's experience of all the events that unfold, the film's 1.33:1 aspect ratio and often-claustrophobic framing evoke her constricted world. In some scenes the frame echoes the inventive cropping in certain paintings made around the time that Maupassant wrote the novel.

  • The resulting achievement is not inconsiderable: A Woman’s Life registers first and foremost as a painstaking approximation of lonely lived experience in a crucible of social pressures, rather than simply a costume drama about downcast aristocrats.

  • Most of all, A Woman’s Life catches a tone of everyday intimacy that very much chimes with the naturalist tenor of Maupassant’s world. The acting is low-key, relaxed, without the faintest whiff of drawing-room stiffness: even some of the most charged moments, such as the scene where the Baron puts Jeanne right about her financial misconceptions, are pitched very calmly, without too obtrusive a dramatic edge.

  • "Life is never as good or as bad as you think,” Jeanne tells her cherubic baby granddaughter at the film’s end—or is it Brizé telling us? Just as we’re close to his characters, reveling in their joy but more often sympathizing with their sorrows, Brizé’s intimacy extends to us as well, reflecting back a similar compassion for the shared human experience.

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