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  • "It all adds up", says Francois to his mistress Emilie, explaining why he can love her and his wife Therese and his children equally. In her brilliant and provocative 1965 film, Le Bonheur, Agnes Varda (The Gleaners and I, Vagabond, Cleo From 5 to 7), raises the question of whether "open marriage" can work and answers it with a definite "maybe".

    As the film opens, a carpenter, Francois (Jean-Claude Drouot), and his young (real-life) family are experiencing a Sunday afternoon picnic in the park. Shot in pastels and making use of exquisite color fades, Ms. Varda immerses us in the flowers, trees, and lakes of the French countryside. We are lulled by Mozart's languid Clarinet Quintet, yet soon sense that something is amiss. Communication appears superficial and few feelings are expressed. This mood carries over to the scene in their apartment complex where, in a family gathering that includes aunts and uncles, not much happens in the way of conversation.

    When Francois is away on business, he meets an attractive telephone operator named Emilie. Soon he declares his love for her and claims that he has enough love within him to include her in his life, "I love you both and if I met you first, you would be my wife". Being honest and open, Francois tells Therese that he has loved another woman for over a month, but says that his love for her and his family remains stronger than ever. The love that Francois experiences is - the film states again and again - a natural occurrence, an addition, not a subtraction. However, Therese cannot separate herself from what has become her identity as wife and mother, leading to tragic consequences. She was, in the words of the lovely song, "Tree of Life", "only known as someone's mother, someone's daughter, or someone's wife."

    At the end of the film, Mozart's Clarinet Quintet is replaced by the darker Adagio and Fugue in C Minor. Francois replaces one woman with another and continues his life without reflection, guilt, or self-doubt. In Le Bonheur, the characters are painfully pure and do not question their actions. Perhaps Ms.Varda is saying that, for Francois, happiness is seamless, that it will continue regardless, and that, in his world, people are simply viewed as interchangeable parts. In Varda's words, happiness is "a beautiful fruit that tastes of cruelty".

    Agnès Varda's has said, "In my films, I always wanted to make people see deeply. I don't want to show things, but to give people the desire to see". One of the seminal works of the French New Wave, Le Bonheur was audacious in its day and still leaves us unsettled, 37 years later, yet able to see more deeply.
  • At first sight, Le Bonheur seems just a conventional film, with everything being too perfect. Each single frame is a beautiful picture in composition and color. We see a happily married couple, with charming and beautiful children, nice family picnics in the country, the sublime music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in two of his most beautiful pieces (Adagio and Fugue in C minor and the Clarinet Quintet). Happiness (Bonheur) and harmony is everywhere.

    But then the husband meets another woman, very different from his wife, falls in love with her, and proposes a thesis: for him, happiness is not a subtractive affair - it all adds up. After being in love with his new lover, he manages to love his wife and children even more. Love, happiness, harmony should never be too much, Agnès Varda seems to say. But is it possible? Or, better: do people make it possible? Shouldn't it be possible?

    That's why this apparently bourgeois film is, in fact, revolutionary. It proposes a new vision on certain matters that is, ultimately, extremely subversive. And it does so in a most contrasting environment.

    That said, it has some of the most gorgeous images in film to look at. The use of colour is amazing. And, exactly for being so beautiful, the conclusion is so shocking.

    In short: one of the most important films in History, one of the most subversive, and certainly one of the most beautiful. We can only say: thank you, Agnès Varda, for making it. Hope people will understand it better, in the future, and grasp the challenge you have cast.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The film divides fairly neatly into 4 20-minute sections, as we follow first the apparently very happy marriage of François and his wife Therese with their two small children; the beginnings of François' affair with Émilie; the growing intensity of that affair and his disclosure of it to Therese; and the aftermath. There's no way to properly discuss this without serious spoilers, so I hope anyone reading this has seen the film.

    Throughout the film the music of Mozart is used, specifically the Clarinet Quintet, much of it enormously cheerful and beautiful but with a melancholy undertone always struggling to break to the surface - and this describes the film as well. Each segment of the film is broken up by a day in the country as the family leaves the confines of their medium-sized provincial city - each segment (save the last) begins in a carefree, naive and innocent happiness and the exquisite photography romances both the beautiful couple with their children and the countryside. Nothing could be more gorgeous...

    But in fact François seems to suffer from an excess of happiness - he actually says as much at one point - or rather, he is incapable of feeling anything deep at all and experiences only a shallow surface thrill at the beauty of both his wife and his new love. He can't ever really decide between them and seems unable to grasp that he should even be thinking in that way, and that there might be problems developing as a result. I don't think it's any coincidence that Émilie bears a strong resemblance to Therese - blonde, roughly the same height and build, affecting fairly similar clothing and in the end, doubling in every way for her predecessor. François doesn't really want something different - he wants more of the same - or rather, he just wants to adore and be adored in a simple and childish way without thought of consequences. Perhaps it wouldn't matter if Émilie was strikingly different from Therese - but then perhaps it wouldn't be as obvious to us that all the man sees is the surface, and one surface seems as good as another...

    At the climax of the film, the end of the third part, François confesses his affair, and it's obvious that he has no comprehension that it could be a problem - he has enough love for both of them, you see. But Therese, perhaps as incapable as he is of truly adult comprehension or communication, nevertheless is capable of rejection, and she does so in dramatic and final fashion, forcing him to choose by removing herself from the equation. At the end, Émilie has replaced her in every way and the only person who has apparently learned anything is the one who ended her life.

    Varda deliberately creates a film that is all bold surfaces and colors - bright reds, pastel blues and greens, sunny yellows - and it is her use of color and editing that define the melancholy that underlies the happiness. When Émilie shows François her apartment for the first time there is a series of very quick cuts that show her possessions as François looks around, as if to show that in a few seconds he has taken in all he needs to, that he has found what he's looking for and doesn't need to think about it. And he never does.

    All three characters are fairly shallow, at least the film doesn't explicitly show us anything much to contradict that, and this leads to an extraordinarily cynical feeling, particularly on a second viewing for me - really, she seems to be saying, if we don't think and don't communicate with each other, if all we want is happiness, then what difference does it make if one person drowns herself - if that was her choice? One woman is as good as another, a new mother can do the same job as the original, let's just go on with our daily lives and forget about the darkness. The sole person who may have actually thought matters through with any understanding, Therese, is ultimately the one who can't exist in this world.

    It's also helpful in watching this I think - or at least, it gives the film even greater resonance - if one has seen "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", made the previous year by Varda's husband Jacques Demy, which makes a fascinating counterpoint. Where "Le Bonheur" has the rhythmic feel and glossy surface of a musical, the Demy film actually is one; and where Varda's film actually ends up a tragedy - but wrapped up in cozy beauty - Demy's film is only a Hollywood tragedy. Did the wife make her savage piece of cynicism in response to her husband's bittersweet romance? I don't know, but it's fascinating to think about the many parallels...

    On the whole, I think "Le Bonheur" is one of the key French films of the 60s, it stands for me with the much-better known works of Godard, Truffaut and Chabrol from the decade and it is certainly a powerful philosophical statement about the nature of relationships, fidelity, "happiness."
  • François leads an idyllic life full of happiness. He loves his wife and their young children; he enjoys his work as a carpenter; and the country town where he lives is awash with sunshine and smiling faces. So when he meets a pretty girl working at the post office, what could be more natural and right than to take a further sip from the bowl of happiness?

    Le Bonheur is a delicious sugar-coated bonbon with a bitter centre. What disturbs the viewer most is the cool unjudging gaze of Varda's camera: the characters are naive but not cruel, and when tragedy strikes it comes about from a childlike pursuit of happiness. Then the seasons change, and life continues with no-one wiser than before...

    The emphatic pastel colour palette of the film, and the music of Mozart that plays insistently throughout, are beautiful and cloyingly seductive. They entice us into the innocent fantasy world of François, where all it takes to do the right thing is to follow your desires. What could possibly go wrong?

    Le Bonheur is an exquisite, delicate, ambiguous masterpiece of the type that Hollywood was, is and always will be incapable of producing.
  • A man in a happy marriage with two kids begins an affair, sincerely feeling he has enough love for both women and that neither one will be loved less. To start with, it's absolutely beautiful to look at. Varda always seems to know exactly what to do with the image, where to put the camera, which direction to move, when to cut, what color to fade to; everything is absolutely perfect.

    Moreover, the film is completely fascinating first because Varda deals with her subject with a rare honesty and forgiveness. Not a single character is unlikeable. Even if you see error in the husband's thinking, it is clear he believes with all of his heart that he truly can love both of these women at once and you sympathize with his sincerity. The wife is easy to care for, a good mother and very devoted, and the mistress is not someone you feel compelled to hate, either. She's not out to break up this marriage and she seems to really need this love.

    And what makes the film endlessly interesting is in how ambiguous Varda is about her own feelings. She never leads you to pick a side, never encourages you to see one specific viewpoint or leave the film feeling a particular way about what happened. While the music (Mozart is used throughout most of the film) in the last 15 minutes would seem to suggest anger at the way things have turned out, you can also look at the early stages of the film and see the image of the idyllic family with pastoral music as too perfect a presentation, one that is not entirely believable. Varda even hints at this herself; after we've watched about five minutes of this family picnicking in the woods, she cuts almost immediately to nearly the same image in a TV advertisement, suggesting that a marriage that happy only exists in commercials to begin with.
  • Watching this film the last time, some 45 years ago, upon it's original UK release, I was blown away. I felt I had never seen such beautiful sunny summer images, I was astonished at the use of posters and advertising hoardings for composition. I notice now that some of these aspects have coloured my own photographic sensitivities. I remember the film as one long celebration of happiness and the suggestion that with the right attitude life would be like this. Seeing it again, it is still undoubtedly beautiful and I possibly appreciate even more the wonderful cinematography, however, now I notice how subversive this movie is. I have a feeling that this is very much a personal film seen through Varda's eyes and she is suggesting that a woman might easily do as the second woman does in this without causing so much as a head to turn. I think not, this is fantasy. The guy is unreal, men don't lie around saying how happy they are all the time, never mind the way he fails to be affected by the incident. I imagine at the time I saw this as a depiction of a real possibility. I seem to remember thinking lots of things were possible in the 60s that have turned out not to be. Nevertheless, this is still a beautiful movie,
  • This is perhaps best experienced without knowing how and where the film will go. The ending is definitely memorable and has lovely cinematography by Jean Rabier, one of the best-known New Wave cinematographers.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that the family at the center of the film is played by Jean-Claude Drouot, his wife Claire, and their two very young children. This will give a special kick to certain events in the film.

    These events could have been treated in standard dramatic or even melodramatic fashion, but Agnes Varda works hard to de-emphasize the drama and keep the surfaces of the film as quiet as the pastoral scene which opens the film. All of the scenes with children are natural and true to life, reminding us how phony Hollywood kids can be. Are the simple scenes of domestic life with family and co-workers truly happiness ("le bonheur")?

    The talented, handsome, and very sexy Jean-Claude Drouot could not be better in this role as someone who seems to be a complete narcissist.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After the shimmering brilliance of her last film, CLEO DE 5 A 7, Agnes Varda's LE BONHEUR is a big disappointment. This time she abandons rich sympathy with her characters in favour of an almost Bressonian detachment and schematism, and a fable-like drive. True, her previous films have had these qualities, but they were infused with the emotional warmth of her protagonists. Fluid camerawork which freed space is replaced by a rigid framing and colour coordination that fixes characters. Still, the film has a rare, if sickly, beauty, and a deeply troubling climax which leaves you not wanting to believe what you've just seen.

    The story concerns a carpenter, the provocatively named Francois (the film's fades to red are at one point disrupted by a fade to blue, white and red) with a beautiful wife, Therese, and two children, who go on weekend outings to the country. They seem obsessively happy and content, but one day he meets a telephonist, Emilie, who is about to move into his neighbourhood. They begin an affair, although he insists that he is still passionate about his wife, and that the affair is a conduit for his overflowing happiness. So taken is he with this theory, that he decides to share it with his wife, expecting her approval. He does not get the response he expected.

    The ending is so shocking, I think, because of the idyllic happiness (the film's translation) that has preceded it. In fact, its monotony and repetitiveness made the joy oppressive, and Varda takes care from the beginning to undermine it with artifice, not least by overlaying it with one of Mozart's most melancholy late works.

    The opening sequence suggests an Eden, as the family loll in perfect happiness in the woods. But in her filming of it, there is none of the Romantic empathy with nature of the Archers (see A CANTERBURY TALE) or King Vidor. One remarkable pan, which blurs the background like a Rorschach test (itself a foretelling of mental collapse), and foregrounds two ominous branches a la Franju (LES YEUX SANS VISAGE), disturbs the paradise for the viewer, as does the lack of communication in the family, the fact that Francois is asleep (is the film his dream?). A relationship based on mere feeling, without communication, can only lead to rupture and misunderstanding.

    This opening sequence is cut off from any kind of social or economic reality, such is its dreamlike beauty, so it's a jolt when the family leave for the suburban tower blocks (with an artifice and curious symmetrical beauty of their own). Here the artifice of the earlier scene is compounded by the garden Francois's brother tends, a mini-forest in itself. However, there is no communication here either, as the only personality in the room belongs to the television, offering more constructed ideals about happiness and nature. The relatives seem to have little to say to each other, and leave as soon as they arrive.

    This tension permeates the film, even when it professes to merely depict happiness. Therese, even before the affair starts, seems to be the loser, as Francois has a separate space for his work, while she must toil at home as a dressmaker, no division between public and private realms; forced to watch optimistic brides-to-be pass under her roof, while she remains stuck in her unperceived hell. The difference between the two workplaces (rigidly gender specific) offers the first separation, and makes Francois's affair seem inevitable.

    Although he claims to still love his wife, the affair offers Francois everything he lacks - a site where he can talk about his feelings, and where he can get uninhibited sexual satisfaction (he compares Emilie to a wild animal, his wife to a meadow, which makes the pastoral idyll all the more violently ironic). Varda mocks the French tendency towards compartmentalisation for convenience here, and comically undercuts the relationship: first with some hilariously rapid shot/reverse shot editing when Francois arrives at Emilie's flat the first time; secondly, in a remarkably extended post-coital scene, after a distanced and fragmentary love scene, which reveals alienation, even when the couple most profess their love.

    The ending is terrifying, but also satiric, as it reveals that the family unit as celebrated by de Gaulle is an abstract end in itself, with an icy indifference to the feelings of individuals, shown in the film's repulsive final image of colour-coded conformity. The speed with which conservative ideology co-opts difference and subversion is chilling - the wayward mistress becomes a wife and mother with disturbing ease; we see the process of socialisation and feminisation with lucidity and barely suppressed anger. Modern France has as much emphasis on medieval rites as the fishing village in Varda's debut, LE POINTE COURTE, with its dances and work environments.

    Sometimes Varda does allow us access to her characters, as when Francois and Emilie have coffee at the beginning of their affair, but mostly, coldly, shows them as trapped pawns in an amoral, repressive system, in which only witless men thrive. The pastels are ravishing to look at, but unemotional; their poverty of feeling reflects the subject matter. The knowledge that Varda cast a real family in the lead roles only adds to the film's eerie power.
  • This goes in my list of most important works. Varda soars, showing herself to be among the masters who truly understand appearances. They're no simple thing. Image is not just the depicted thing, for those who know how to use it, it's the whole space leading up to the eye that includes the mind that we bring to it, great filmmakers try to work that space.

    If we arrive anywhere, it's because we walked. Lesser films comfortably carry us a little down the way, or not at all. This one will take you far and leave you there to ponder on what this new place is, but you have to walk through that space.

    The departure point is an idyllic happiness given to us with pastoral colors in the countryside, a husband and wife with their two kids are frolicking under the sun, everything picture perfect, a mythic eden.

    Now comes the journey. They drive back to the city, concrete begins to loom from the corner of the windshield, we imagine that here happiness will be tainted, life has to be more complex than everyone being happy. Our expectation is left hanging, they're still perfectly happy in their little home.

    Soon the man meets another woman in the phone office one day, they go on a date. We imagine that now there's going to be drama, duplicity. No dice again, the man explains to her that he loves his wife no less, that love for him only adds up to encompass both. He looks honest, she accepts it. We strain to imagine dishonesty just the same, some secret misgiving for her.

    There's a paean here to boundless love, love that is not ego or possessiveness but simply joy, Varda renders this as couples dancing in a tavern and freely swapping partners. Politics of love are only a small part of its appeal for me, no there's something more powerful here.

    So the wife queries her husband who looks even happier these days, they're back in that idyllic patch of nature, he can't lie, he confesses. Finally we expect to see heartbreak, betrayal, hurt, but again no, she looks apprehensive but quickly seems to accept it, she says she's happy that he is, they have sex, fall asleep. But when he wakes up something has happened.

    This is the story in a hurry, the rest when you see it.

    This is rife for profound meditation that goes beyond opposites. Is this happiness that we see? Or maybe a better question, where is the unhappiness? At so many points in the story we imagine drama, expect it, that is how life comes to be, and yet at every point drama is waved away. We'd like to accept a life without regrets perhaps, but do we? Immediately we have complete dismantling of the melodrama, but we have something else too.

    Varda has filmed a story trusting that we'll imagine all the other things, which she can leave out. She teases out only enough, a brief look of disappointment in the two women, the notion that she carried flowers down to the river. We inhabit both stories, the one we see, the other which we foreshadow behind appearances, so that all the tension becomes ours, internal. We strive to see the lying man, the betrayed wife, maybe we do. Is this happiness? Is it not? Is it?

    There's more than social critique here, make no mistake, or it wouldn't haunt (even more than Vertigo). It's because it makes you walk, live, through your own mind all the way to heartbreaking betrayal and you can't unlive it. In the end Varda films the last part from the river onwards as if nothing has changed between the new pair, but something has. Has it? Does he grieve? Does he not? Who is it that tells you one or the other, or that it has to be one? Or will you just see a painted parable?

    Something to meditate upon.
  • How do you rate a film like this? It wasn't really made to be rated. Unfortunately, we live in bonehead times when American idol has made every loser a critic. So, I give it an 7 based only on my purely subjective view, compared to other films that have made a mark.

    One moronic reviewer writes this film off as "A perfect little nothing...Agnes Varda's Le Bonheur is a perfect little composition. A nice, sweet portrait...There is no fault in this film, except that it feels a little empty. Varda's hand is light and inspired, and about as dramatic as its cheerful score...a wonderful ode to a summer's day, with barely a hint of winter." Gag.

    That person obviously only watched part of the film (or, more than likely, played it in the background while surfing the internet) or he/she suffers from a Jeffrey Dahmer-like view of the world.

    Believe me, the light and airy music and cinematography is there to fool you. Look deeper and there's some wicked commentary going on.

    Varda's films are more valuable than film school for emerging filmmakers (unless you aspire to be one of those big-mouth "Film Makers" who loves to spout off in the video store or Starbucks).

    This is a movie for people who can sit and watch. Not those who need to be spoon-fed their movies and can't sit for five minutes without fondling a cell phone.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film is filled with scenes of nature. It is tempting to see these as symbolically mirroring the "naturalness" of the sexually open relationship that Francois seeks with his wife Therese and mistress Emilie; however, Francois, his wife, and his children are usually seen in the outdoors while Francois and Emilie occupy private and public, unnatural spaces. So, it is the traditional family that is aligned with nature in this film rather than the open relationship.

    Furthermore, the possibility of an open relationship extends only to Francois, with Therese and Emilie expected to serve as his devoted objects of desire, similar to sister wives.

    After fooling around behind his wife's back for a month, Francois offers his wife a shockingly nonchalant confession, and with childlike innocence seems to expect Therese to forgive him and let him continue philandering. It seems she does, with a smile, before excusing herself to pick some flowers. I understood her decision to leave to signify her refusal of this proposed one-sided open relationship.

    Francois searches for her when she does not return, to find her drowned in a nearby stream, a la Ophelia. I understood this as a suicide in reaction to Francois's confession. Nevertheless, with Therese gone, Francois' extended family meets to decide who will adopt Francois' children as if a single man is incapable of both working and raising children (by contrast, before she died, Therese raised the children and created dresses on the side while Francois was working and philandering).

    In the end, no adoption is necessary because Emilie, who earlier stated that she did not want a permanent relationship, now Stepford-like, turns into a docile pseudo-Therese (whom she physically resembles), and happily agrees to marry Francois and take care of his kids. Additionally, she seems to give up her wire service job (which I saw as a symbol of her feminist independence), and adopts Therese's home-based dressmaking business.

    Many reviews of this film remark how sexually progressive its supposed depiction of open relationships was; but I think it is the same old patriarchal portrayal of a man, not women and not the other men in the film, deciding that his desire trumps his wife's.
  • Similar in many ways to the fantastic "Cléo de 5 à 7", a charming, mature and playful look at temptation and marriage.Not only great for it's chromatic & musical scales (color-fades, very colorful scenes are organized like moments withing a musical composition), the dialogues are right on as well - at first, it might seem a little 'sappy', but with 15minutes, you're enraptured!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Even as early as "Le Bonheur", you could tell that Agnes Varda was born to make documentaries. This slight, if extremely beautiful, little film is an everyday tale of adultery, of a man happy, and in love with, not one woman but two, his wife and the mother of his children and his mistress. For most of its length, until near the end when a tragedy occurs, it's not a film full of drama. The title says it all; the husband is guilt-free and happy and Varda's use of colour expresses that. Even that tragedy is expressed very matter-of-factly.

    It's also like a documentary in that Varda uses untried actors, (it was Jean-Claude Drouot's first film), and simply observes them in a series of everyday situations in which very little actually happens, just like life and it becomes clear quite early on that observation is everything for Varda, (the long opening sequence of a summer picnic is a stunner). When I say the film is slight I don't mean in form or construction or even in content but in attitude. Varda views the world with great simplicity and the closest she comes to being critical is simply to say that perhaps happiness isn't all it's cut out to be after all. A small gem of a picture.
  • Greekguy18 January 2019
    Warning: Spoilers
    It's a love story, of a sort, but not what we usually see. Instead, it's a story about love. Instead of boy meets girl or vice versa, here we have a happily married individual, parent to two small children and husband to an adoring wife, who happens to fall in love again. What is to be done?

    The first thing you notice are the colours - they're stunning, omnipresent and mysterious. Are they there to remind us that this isn't a black and white world, with simple answers, or are they there to beguile us, and lead us astray? Perhaps they're not there for us at all; they just are, like nature.

    The next thing you notice is how often flowers come into the frame - right from the start, first as part of a fecund but cyclical natural world and then as bouquets, to make us think about what happens when we don't leave well enough alone. The wild flower, beautiful in its own environment, thrives; the cut flower, beautiful in our homes, dies. But we do want to have our cake and eat it, too.

    This film was made in 1964, and it divided public opinion when it came out, because it challenged notions of fidelity and marriage that had endured, at least in their public proclamation, unchanged for centuries. It did so by presenting the act of taking a lover while married as an arguably logical step, based on the concept that happiness can be increased for one without being decreased for another. Whether that concept applies to love, however, is another matter entirely.

    The film is beautiful, lyrical and troubling. The actors perform admirably, none so more than the non-professional Claire Drouot, Jean Claude Drouot's real-life wife playing his on-screen wife. (The children are their own children, too.) The script is deceptively simple, the scenes are largely quiet, and yet all the while there are important and substantial ideas being raised. Is love a feeling or a relationship? What do we owe ourselves and what do we owe our loved ones? Varda does not give you the answers, but the way she gives you the questions is marvellous.
  • A thing non-French users may not know:at the time,the male star,Jean-Claude Drouot was the brats' hero,Thierry la Fronde ,a miniseries where he portrayed a young French noble fighting against the "villains" (eg: the English) during the Hundred Years war.

    Casting the whole Drouot family (husband,wife,and children who all keep their first names in real life) was a risqué move for the sixties;And involving daddy in adultery was not particularly what they call "playing safe" ;and proving that the pursuit of happiness is legitimate and normal,even if they 've got someone's blood on their hands,it takes the biscuit..

    Pastel colors and the delightful cinematography display Varda's husband,Jacques Demy 's influence;the first part shows everyday life in a way both realistic and poetic.

    But ,sincerely,frank,I would not have expected that from feminist Varda.
  • Technically speaking, "Le Bonheur" is a very well made film. The cinematography and Agnès Varda's direction were very nice--with some unusual but interesting camera angles and an interesting use of focus that betray that she knew what she was doing when it came to directing the picture. As for the story itself, it left me a bit cold...and much of it could have to do with the movie's New Wave sensibilities...sensibilities that may surprise you because the meaning of all this seems vague and the moral lesson even more ambiguous.

    The film is about a French man, François. He would seem to have an admirable life, with a loving and beautiful wife, Thérèse, and two young children he adores. However, about a third of the way through the film, he begins an affair with Émilie--even though he openly acknowledges that he's STILL in love with his wife and finds her sexually desirable. He's a guy who, figuratively speaking, wants to have his cake and eat it too. The film seems, for a while, to validate the notion that polyandry is quite good and harmless. But the ending, like so many so-called 'New Wave' films muddles all this...leaving the viewer to wonder what this all means. I only assume that it really ISN'T about meaning but rather about a lack of meaning.

    The film is extremely frank and rather matter-of-fact about sexuality and nudity. It's not really salacious but you do see quite a few breasts. But the story itself is a bit of an enigma. Well made but confusing in many ways. His motivations, his wife's VERY confusing motivations and the meaning of it all make this a very unconventional film. Worth seeing if you are a huge film buff but not among my favorite French films of the era.
  • This movie is rich! One of the richest out of the thousands I've seen. I had to pause it after every scene just to catch my breath and to digest the images and emotions that came from the screen. It is less like watching a movie and more like going to a painting exhibit of newly discovered Renoirs and Monets. The beauty and the music simply got my heart thumping, and then, all I can say is that the plot seems to emerge out of the art direction. Genius!

    It is impossible for me to free my mind now from the images, which are startlingly fresh, in the way that "Letyat zhuravli" (The Cranes are Flying) was in 1957, or the opening shot of "Cleo de 5 a 7" was in 1962. The composition of every shot is immaculately precise in the manner of Jacques Tati's "Monsieur Hulot" movies, or Godard's "Une femme mariee" (1964) or the magazine industry, but Agnes Varda's movie is greater than all of these, because whereas those are static, motionless, almost feeling-less projects, hers has somehow managed to come across fluidly, effortlessly, vividly as anything before or after until the works of Kieslowski. It felt like I was watching a scene out of some family's life in heaven, and then, one of the children looks at the camera and offers some fruit, as if Varda is winking at us and saying, "Enjoy, come in. Be a part of our wonderful time." Can life really be so wonderful as it is in this movie? The movie goes on to probe that very question. And I am better for it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    **SPOILERS**You could tell that Agnes Varda had half of a great idea going into this film, but she never panned it out to its fullest extent. It begins interestingly enough, and progresses so for about half an hour or forty-five minutes. Then it plateaus and nothing very important comes of it. The story has a young married man, Francois, who is in a state of perfect happiness with his beautiful, down-to-earth wife and two beautiful young children (these four are played by an actual married couple, the Drouots, and their children). On the job, Francois begins to run into a postal clerk named Emilie. He's attracted to her and thinks to himself, "Hey, I'm happy, but if I can make myself happier still, is there any harm?" So he starts to date her without losing an iota of interest in his wife. SPOILERS. Eventually, he decides to tell his wife, and he does so guiltlessly. She seems to take it well, and the two make love in an idyllic, pastoral setting. After their lovemaking, Francois falls asleep. When he awakens, she has drowned herself (apparently). Several months later, Francois and Emilie marry and she becomes a mother to the two children, working her hardest at taking the role. As the film ends, we realize that she has incorporated herself into the family perfectly and everything is back to normal. They will live happily ever after, or at least I didn't see any real foreshadowing of future tragedies.

    Now, my first instinct is to take the film as being slightly ironic. Wouldn't you think a woman director would want to satirize this man and his rather selfish attitude? Perhaps Varda thinks that a lot of men feel that they should be able to, or at least could successfully love two women at once. There's never a hint that either Francois' wife or Emilie would ever take another lover themselves. They are both absurdly selfless. Emilie totally accepts her position as the paramour. The wife does at first, of course, but it was only a lie so she could punish him. Even more ironic and unfair is that Francois only barely suffers from her death. Even their children seem wonderfully happy next to the indirect and direct causes of their mother's death.

    However, I'm fairly sure that the audience isn't supposed to hate Francois. In reality, it seems to me that Varda was trying to challenge social conventions and that she herself is asking why a man can't be perfectly happy loving two women. If this is the case, and it did seem so to me, I feel that Varda is just being a bit facetious. Francois is not a very believable character. He spouts some very ridiculous philosophy about why he should follow his heart and love both women. The audience, in fact, often laughed at these thoughts, because they were, in truth, silly. Francois, at times, seems absolutely naïve. Perhaps this is more support for my first interpretation. But if that were true, the movie still doesn't work. To satirize a kind of person, it's best to have them even remotely believable, which Francois, as I have stated, is not.

    Even if this film does fail in its narrative, it is still well worth seeing. It is perhaps best known for being Varda's first film in color. I saw an absolutely beautiful print: this woman knows how to use the format. It's all so vibrant; the colors are not exaggerated, but they're composed in such a way that they stand out almost in three dimensions. And she uses these beautiful fades to green, red, blue, white, and so forth. 7/10.
  • Forty years ago I saw this movie three times. Triangel love affairs are the subject of many movies, but I've never seen it more beautifully done then in this movie.

    I was especially impressed by the use of the music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

    It is the Serenade for Winds in C minor (K. 388) written in 1782. This Serenade for Winds was transcribed by Mozart to the String Quintet in C minor (K. 406). One version is used for the first relationship, the other version for the second relationship. In this way they represent 'le Bonheur' (the Happinesss) in both relationships and the whole movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I have admired the work of the magnificent Agnes Varda ("Cleo from 5 to 7," "Vagabond," "The Gleaners and I," etc.) for years, yet I had never seen "Le Bonheur" (aka 'Happiness,' 1965) until now. It's one of her masterpieces, a perverse 79-minute fairy tale in reverse that is deceptively simple and brilliantly subversive.

    Varda's inquisitive camera follows a happily married, attractive young couple with two kids (played by Jean-Claude Drouot, his actual wife Claire Drouot, and their own children Olivier and Sandrine). Everyone is perfectly happy and joyful, until François (Jean-Claude) meets another pretty blonde, Emilie (played by Marie-France Boyer), and decides that he loves her too. His wife Therese (Claire) is oblivious of the secret love affair, but it isn't long until François confesses to her that he's also in love with someone else. He hasn't fallen out of love with Therese; he has simply come to the conclusion that happiness works by addition, not subtraction. What happens next is what Varda explains as "taking apart the clichés" - and does she succeed at that!

    I went into "Le Bonheur" expecting a clever, non-judgmental, very French take on polygamy and societal perceptions about love and happiness. What I got was a visually stunning (Varda's work on the color schemes and the cinematography by Claude Beausoleil and Jean Rabier are a feast for the eyes), morally ambiguous, and subtly perverse film that gets under your skin. In "Vagabond," which Varda directed twenty years after "Le Bonheur," one character says to the protagonist, Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire): "You chose total freedom and you got total loneliness." François has his own idea of total freedom; a possessive, egotistical kind masquerading as loving and compassionate. Somehow, he defeats loneliness by choosing happiness over grief. The road to his happiness is another discussion altogether, and it's up for the viewer to decide whether or not there's any integrity behind his actions.

    There's no doubt for me that Varda was a true visionary, and I'm so glad that, at 87, she's still working and sharing her brilliance with us. "Le Bonheur," in its apparent simplicity, is more complex and multi-layered than 90% of the films released in our day and age. 50 years after its initial release, it hasn't lost its panache, and still inspires new acolytes, like myself. The Criterion DVD edition, released a few years ago, has some great bonus features, such as recent interviews with Varda and the cast (including the Drouots, still married after 5 decades and claiming that the film helped their relationship!). 10/10.
  • A good-looking guy, frolics with blonde wife and two lovely preschoolers in a 1965 type of colorful countryside with Mozart wind quartet in the backgroud. Too much. Bring me the bucket, I'll throw-up lunch breakfast and all of yesterday's meals. He has an affair with a local blond beauty who has no other interest in life than to wait for him and make profound statements in a profound voice tone. Life is beautiful and so are her t***. He tells wife during the sunday picnic in a natural loving kind of way. They make love in the weeds while kids are asleep. They always fall asleep when grown-ups tell them to. He falls into sleep (guys always do) to find-out wife has drowned herself in a beautiful pond surrounded by beautiful folks. He goes off in the setting sun with kids and mistress during the next sunday picnic. Did I miss something. Is this what life was meant to be or is this just another 95 minutes long commercial-like pic? The person who told me I should see it pretends it made a big difference for her. She had an "open-marriage" without her husband ever knowing about it. Where did you put that bucket?
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'm surprised the release of this movie in America in the 90s compelled some viewers to reconsider Varda's stature as a feminist director. Seems clear to me she was presenting an ironic picture of happiness right off the top, with the colorful spring flowers and the impossibly-in-love couple, set to Mozart. Then the husband starts making faces at the telegraph girl even though his wife has given him no reason to wander. He tries to justify this lack of fidelity as ''love for two women" and of course the mistress buys it. But there's no way the viewer is buying it. Eventually he gets around to telling his wife, but he's not quite as up-front with her as he was with the mistress. But listen to the musical cues. The happy Mozart that has repeated for the first 65 minutes is gone. Replaced by foreboding Mozart. Meanwhile, watch how the wife builds the kids a bona fide sleeping lean-to to keep them safe from park critters while they sleep. Husband tries to spin his self-justifying nonsense with an analogy. She seems doubtful, but he appears to win her over and they make love, then fall asleep. After the tragedy he barely misses a beat before taking up with the mistress again. She's introduced to the kids and they go for a walk in the autumn park setting, now with a Mozart fugue. She tells them, ''I'll build you a house'' and she puts three little sticks together that is basically a 1/25-size version of the protective structure the actual wife had built for them early that summer. She's a fake, in other words. A pretender. An interloper. A pale copy. And what does the husband do? ''I'm going for a walk.'' He's already day-dreaming about wandering off from the mistress/fake-mom. Sure, Varda doesn't spell it out and have characters yell at each other. Or paint him explicitly as a devil. But that's the point. The husband comes in a pleasant, slick, good-looking, superficially loving package. He's a fraud. The mistress is a fraud. They wear matching sunflower yellow cardigans in the final scene, an autumn tone of yellow to mimic the bright spring yellows he and the real wife were rolling around in during the spring park scene. This movie is pure poetry and Varda is a genius.
  • I've seen this film when I was 19 years old (am now 52...) !!! I hardly recall the plot (IMDB was a great help--thanks !), but I remember the beautiful scenes and the magic of Mozart's wind quintet (I think...). I will try to buy the video. I encourage you to see this marvel.
  • daphne424218 February 2008
    There's something dreamlike about the way the main male character of this film drifts through it. And it is a treat to look at. Both his wife and his mistress are beautiful, as is some of the scenery. Note the extraordinary way Varda uses colour to distinguish the female characters, the clothes of wife sunflower yellow, of the mistress cornflower blue. That colour coding extends to the places around them. The only film I have seen with an even remotely similar colour sense is "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" by Jacques Demy, Varda's husband. Le Bonheur never gives us a clear guide to what the main characters really fee. They live on the surface of their emotions but as an aesthetic experience the film is outstanding.
  • Le Bonheur (1965) was shown in the U.S. with the translated title "Happiness." It was written and directed by Agnès Varda.

    Jean-Claude Drouot plays François Chevalier, a cheerful, optimistic carpenter. His real-life wife, Claire Drouot, plays his film wife, Thérèse. (Their real-life children play their two children.)

    Happiness is not only the title of the movie, it's also the theme of the film. François and Thérèse tell each other over and over that they are happy. Why not? They have a good life, and a good family. They are young, attractive, healthy, and in love.

    The only problem is that apparently François isn't as happy as he could be. When he meets a postal clerk, Émilie, he falls in love with her. Émilie is played by Marie-France Boyer who is very beautiful. In the film, she's also very willing. She knows François is married, and that he won't leave his wife. She's apparently OK with that. The rest of the plot moves forward from this point.

    I find it surprising that a great woman filmmaker like Varda would have this attitude about infidelity. As another reviewer wrote, she treats women as fungible. (New word for me--it means mutually interchangeable.)

    The movie has a very unusual palette. It displays broad patches of primary colors. According to the person who introduced the film, Varda was imitating the women's magazines of the day. They were, indeed, all about finding happiness, and they were illustrated with bold primary colors.

    It's hard to know what Varda was thinking when she wrote and directed this movie. Over the last 50 years, many people have tried to correlate the plot of Le Bonheur with Agnès Varda's own concept of happiness. I guess we all get to guess, but who will decide which answer is best?

    We saw this movie at the wonderful Dryden Theatre in the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY. It's part of a Varda retrospective cosponsored by Rochester Institute of Technology and the Eastman Museum. It was a luxury to see this movie on the large screen. It won't work as well on the small screen, but you might find it worth your while to watch it. It's a film that's hard to pin down, so I don't give it a whole-hearted recommendation. Still, it's part of Varda's oeuvre. If you're a Varda fan, you might want to see it out of a drive for completion.
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