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A Woman's Life review – gauzy frocks and polite feminism

Appealing performances … A Woman’s Life.
Appealing performances … A Woman’s Life. Photograph: Michaël Crotto/TS Productions

Adapted from an 1883 novel by Guy de Maupassant, this period drama feels as if it was designed to delight the palates of Franco-cinephiles with a thing for gauzy frocks, polite literary feminism and boxy aspect ratios.

In the hands of director Stéphane Brizé (The Measure of a Man), the film trots along like a reliable chestnut mare, tugging behind it at steady if somewhat soporific pace the tale of a sensitive heiress, Jeanne (endearing Judith Chemla), who marries a rotter with a fancier title (Swann Arlaud). As the years pass, loved and less loved ones die, farms and estate holdings are sold off and children make bad investments that ruin fortunes, all heaping more unhappiness on our resilient heroine.

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. As required by classical 19th-century humanist realism, the heroine is neither wholly good or wholly bad, but the type of long-suffering bride you might still find today in modern dress.

This article titled "A Woman's Life review – gauzy frocks and polite feminism" was written by Leslie Felperin, for The Guardian on Friday 12 January 2018 11.00am


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