Une Affaire de Femmes
(Story of Women)
(Claude Chabrol, 1988)
I think the genius in this movie, and there is definitely genius in this movie, is in the way that Chabrol isn’t passing judgement, isn’t coming down on one side of the central argument here or the other. It’s a movie about fierce, powerful subject matter, that goes about chronicling the odyssey of Marie Latour through wartime France in most maturely detached a manner.
Isabelle Huppert is of course key to the success of the whole thing. She keeps her cards close to her chest, you never can quite tell just what the hell is going through her head, and it makes the woman all the more fascinating, and the performance (and by extension the film) that much more effective because it remains neutral, neither pleading for sympathy, protesting innocence, nor acting the monster. For that reason it stands in sharp contrast to a film dealing in similar subjects in similar times, Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake. Where Chabrol’s film also differs from Leigh’s is in the surrounding ensemble. While the majority of characters in Vera Drake are decent, innocent folk, rocked by the revelations that unfold before them, the characters in Chabrol’s movie are almost without exception a collection of malcontents.
It all adds to the murky grey morality of the movie. It is at once a mystery with no reveal, a depiction of an individuals journey from poverty to prosperity without any triumph, a microcosmic look at the state of a nation at a certain time and place without judgement. It’s what Chabrol did at his best, you can see it in La Ceremonie too, there’s no admonishing, no lecturing, he’s just laying out the pieces, and letting you make up your own mind about what you’re seeing. It’s always nice when a filmmaker has that kind of faith in their audience.
I’m sure some of its critics will have something to say regarding the largely negative portrayal of men in the movie, but to me they’re so generally insignificant to what we’re seeing that the complaint is irrelevant. Just look at the title, because it tells you all you need to know, and hot damn does it ever go about being what it says it is in mighty fashion.