‘A Woman’s Life’ is a story that charms, chills and resonates

A Woman’s Life” (Une Vie), which had its West Coast premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Jury Award at the fest.

In the opening scene of “A Woman’s Life” (Une Vie), we watch the lovely lead character Jeanne le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) watering a vegetable garden on her family estate. The copper watering can gleams in the sunlight, water and mud spatter on Jeanne’s dress. It’s a day like any other for her – unhurried, predictable, peaceful. She is the only child of wealthy land owners in Normandy, France, in 1819, and her comfortable future is taken for granted.

But in fact these days of tranquility will dwindle and, as Jeanne’s life unfolds, we are drawn into her emotionally compelling world, viscerally experiencing her moments of poignancy and pain.

At the urging of her mother (Yolande Moreau), Jeanne marries the dapper but weasely Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), who has a pedigree, a shiny frock coat and not much else. The marriage turns out to be short-lived and their child, Paul, grows up to be a willful, selfish brat of the highest order. (Finnegan Oldfield plays the adult Paul.)
Jeanne continues to love Paul blindly, falling back on her father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and the family maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse) for companionship and support.

Director Stéphane Brizé’s film (which he co-wrote with Florence Vignon, based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel) is subtle, complex and layered. Beautifully shot, impeccably acted and featuring first-rate art direction and costumes, “A Woman’s Life” almost seems to have its own organic existence so heightened and intense is its poetic mood and darkly enchanting atmosphere.

(The novel has been adapted one other time: In 1958, director Alexandre Astruc made “One Life” (Une vie) with Maria Schell and Christian Marquand. It was released as “End of Desire” in the U.S.)

Most obviously, Brizé’s film looks at the strict and narrow conventions that defined a woman’s role in family and society at that time. On another level, it’s a study of loyalty and sacrifice, broken trust and betrayal. Jeanne’s mother’s ulterior motives cause Jeanne suffering; her father’s devotion is steadfast.

After she marries, Jeanne turns to a priest for moral counsel but cannot bring herself to follow his advice, lest she inflict pain on an innocent party. A treacherous decision by one of Jeanne’s acquaintances (Clotilde Hesme) has disastrous consequences. Jeanne’s unwavering love and generosity toward her son become her undoing.

At a time of need, Jeanne is rescued by a friend with whom she has a long and complicated history. The film ends with the ultimate symbol of commitment and perhaps fresh hope.

It’s a story that charms, chills and resonates.

“A Woman’s Life” opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and the Laemmle Playhouse 7.

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‘Long Falling’ a strangely intense neo noir with superb acting

Friday night was the noir series at the 15th annual City of Lights, City of Angels (COL•COA) film festival in Los Angeles. My favorite: director Martin Provost’s “The Long Falling,” based on a Keith Ridgway novel, which follows a guilty woman in her fleeting days of freedom.

Actress Yolande Moreau had her work cut out for her in playing the woman, Rose, who has murdered her alcoholic and abusive husband of 30 years. That’s because what’s left of Rose is just a shell of a person.

"The Long Falling" poster

Nonetheless, Moreau deftly inhabits Rose. Her worn-down, resigned expression when she runs him over with her car is not much different than when she takes her nightly bath, immersing her perpetually bruised skin in the hot water and glancing warily over her shoulder, listening for his footsteps.

It is Moreau’s authenticity as an actress and Provost’s skillful direction that make this movie so compelling. The somber story starts with a mighty jolt, then takes its time unfolding. Agnes Godard’s atmospheric cinematography and Hugues Tabar-Nouval’s original score also draw you into this strangely intense neo noir.

After Rose commits the crime, she leaves her isolated farm town, telling no one, and heads to Brussels to be with her son (Pierre Moure). But their relationship is strained — he has also been abused by the same monstrous man and feels an undercurrent of resentment toward his mother for her inability to protect him as a child. Meanwhile, the police are investigating and there’s little chance that they won’t apprehend her.

Eventually, she leaves her son’s place, rents a room and then attempts to flee the country with the help of a woman who is essentially a stranger (a bit too wildly implausible). Once more, Rose does not or cannot challenge her fate.

We have sympathy and feel sadness for Rose, yet Provost (who also directed Moreau in 2008’s “Séraphine,” a winner of many prestigious awards) does not whitewash the moral choices Rose has made in her life. The film also reminds us that we never exist alone in the world, no matter how desperate or dire our circumstances.

“The Long Falling” image from uniFrance

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COL•COA Festival offers first-rate lineup, mais oui!

Tickets are going fast for the 15th annual City of Lights, City of Angels (COL•COA) Film Festival that runs today through April 18 in Los Angeles.
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In addition to 26 shorts, the festival will present 34 features, including several premieres. “The relationship between COL•COA and our audiences has evolved into a genuine love story over the last 15 years,” says Director and Programmer François Truffart. “We are thrilled that for this 15th anniversary year, we will bring an equally exclusive and high-profile lineup, keeping the passion for French cinema alive.”
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And Friday, April 15, is the film noir series featuring:
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At 5:45 p.m.: In “The Night Clerk” Vincent Rottiers plays Frédéric, a young man trying to return to society after his release from prison. He finds work in a mountain hotel owned by the bad-tempered Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri). Though Frédéric suspects Jacques may be involved in the mysterious disappearance of a hotel client, he remains silent to protect him. But police inspector Sylvie Poncet (Sylvie Testud) makes it harder and harder for Frédéric to keep quiet. Directed by Raphaël Jacoulot.

Romain Duris and Marina Foïs star in "The Big Picture."

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At 7:45 p.m.: “The Big Picture” stars Romain Duris as a successful lawyer who seems to lead an enviable life. When he learns his wife is having an affair, he accidentally kills her lover. His orderly life now in ruins, he assumes the dead man’s identity and flees to the former Yugoslavia. Supporting actors include Catherine Deneuve, Branka Katic and Niels Arestrup. Based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy; directed by Eric Lartigau.

At 10:15 p.m.: “The Long Falling” tells the story of a battered woman (Yolande Moreau) who kills her husband of 30 years, tries to reunite with her estranged son and ends up on the run. Based on a novel by Keith Ridgway; directed by Martin Provost.
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Other highlights include the following; see the site for details:
*CLASSIC REVIVAL: “Cold Cuts” (Bertrand Blier, 1977) With Gerard Depardieu, Bernard Blier, Jean Carmet. Classic black comedy about three inept murderers. Cast member Bernard Blier, a famous French actor, is director Bertrand Blier’s father.
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*CLASSIC REVIVAL: “Les Bonnes Femmes” (Claude Chabrol, 1960). With Bernadette Lafont, Stephane Audran and Claude Berri. Noir master Chabrol’s classic New Wave tale of four Parisian shopgirls and their lives and dreams.

Catherine Deneuve

*“His Mother’s Eyes,” a drama starring Catherine Deneuve as a celebrity news anchor and Nicolas Duvauchelle as a troubled young author who wants to write her unauthorized biography and seduces her estranged daughter (Géraldine Pailhas) as a means of gathering information. Directed by Thierry Klifa.
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*“The Clink of Ice,” Bertrand Blier’s new film; Blier will appear for discussion.
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*Also be sure to check out: New films by well-known French directors Claude Lelouch, Guillaume Cantet, Catherine Breillat, Cedric Klapisch, Nicole Garcia, Jean Becker and Benoit Jacquot.
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*To celebrate the announcement and recipients of the 2011 COL•COA awards, two of the winning films will be re-screened for free on Monday, April 18 at 7:30 p.m.
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All films are screened at the Directors Guild Theater Complex, 7920 Sunset Blvd., in Los Angeles (half a block west of Fairfax Avenue and two blocks east of Crescent Heights). Free parking is available at the Directors Guild. Enter on Hayworth Avenue.
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“The Big Picture” image from www.indiewire.com; Catherine Deneuve photo by Brigitte Lacombe, from www.altfg.com.
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