11 March 2007 | dbdumonteil
That was to be Grémillon's last full-length feature film.After a golden decade (roughly from "Gueule d'Amour" (1937) to the overlooked "Pattes Blanches "(1947) which is perhaps his masterpiece ) there were only two movies: "L'Etrange Madame X " which was an intimate version of "Lumière d'Ete" : the bourgeois society versus the working-class people (cabinet-maker Henri Vidal and unhappy married uptown woman Michèle Morgan).And this movie.
"L'Amour d'une Femme " is a beautiful film.Beautiful but extremely sad,even lugubrious.It features two funerals ,and many many depressing scenes;even the love scenes (with the exception of the one which takes place when the schoolteacher is dying) are painful,the two lovers talk but they do not communicate:the engineer is an Italian macho - one mistake: dubbing Massimo Girotti was dubious cause he was supposed to have an accent- ;for him,a woman's job is acceptable as soon as she is without a man.But when she gets married ,she becomes a housewife.It was the fifties after all,woman's lib hadn't happened yet and Marie who wants to reconcile her work and the love she feels for Andrea ,is too much ahead of her time.The young schoolteacher who replaces Madame Leblanc at the end of the film,will do it,simply because she 's doing a female job (teaching)and her fiancé is her colleague.I hardly exaggerate when I write that there were three jobs for a woman before the sixties: shop assistant or factory girl at worst,nurse or teacher at best.But a female doctor? On the Ouessant Island,In Britanny,Grémillon's native region -where "Pattes Blanches" took place too- where coarse uneducated people live,it's hard to accept that.And even once she's integrated ,the teacher warns her " Beware,people will talk " Marie's job took the best of her,but it gave her independence,pride,self-assurance .But the schoolteacher's death ,which is the turning point of the film ,calls everything into question.What?All that admirable woman did for the others' children,it's already forgotten.Two of the pupils she loved left the funeral to look for their lamb ,no one shed a tear during the ceremony.All that is left is photographs of the mistress ,surrounded by pupils,photographs which will soon turn yellow.
When Madame Leblanc,about to retire, packs her stuff,when the doctor asks herself if her work is finally worthwhile ,we think of the director who knew it was to be his final work.During his last years he had to be content with shorts ,which,for a first-class director such as him ,was certainly a pity,considering the great works he could have still made.He died at 61,prematurely.
A last thing : religion was important in Britanny (still is) and the inhabitants 'life was governed by the rhythm of the services,the vespers,the mass sung in Latin.The only moment when it's not taken seriously takes place after Marcel's operation ,when a drunk verger breaks into "Minuit Chrétiens" (O holy night).