Our most cinephilic francophiles head to the 2016 Melbourne French Film Festival. These are their reviews.
We continue our Melbourne French Film Festival Review Series with our guest writer, professional translator Véronique Bergeron, and her review of Jaco van Dormael’s 2015 film Le Tout Nouveau Testament.
Part period piece, part love story; part Parisian, part French countryside, La Belle Saison, set in the seventies, brings to life with energy and respect a crucial period of political and social activism, in a time the pill was a taboo subject and being homosexual could still land you in an asylum. It is also a very romantic and engaging love story between two women, luminously played by Cécile de France and Izia Higelin.
Delphine (Higelin) grew up in a farm in the Limousin. An only daughter, she does her fair share of farm work; driving the tractor, looking after the livestock and the like. Early on in the story she gets her heart broken by her girlfriend who announces that she is getting married and their relationship was never serious. Delphine moves to Paris where she has a chance encounter with a group of young feminists. She is particularly taken by one of them, Carole (de France), an emancipated and lively Spanish teacher, who is older than her. Delphine becomes involved in the political activism movement as much for the cause as for Carole, and the two grow closer. For a while there seems to be a misreading of situations: Delphine seems to think Carole is attracted to her, not realising that Carole is in fact living with her boyfriend, Manuel, an engaged left-wing intellectual. Carole in turn only sees in Delphine a like-minded modern woman, not realising the depth and nature of Delphine’s feelings.
When Delphine finally makes them known to Carole by kissing her passionately on a street corner, the latter is thrown into total confusion (one of the finest acting moments for de France in the film, which is even most remarkable because, as Carole, she constantly shines). After first rejecting Delphine, Carole gradually works through her own feelings (more great acting from De France) and their relationship quickly evolves in a passionate affair. Family responsibilities draw Delphine back to the farm. Carole, missing her desperately, follows, and the relationship continues, but the values and the people around them are very different from those in Paris, and painful choices and decisions will have to be made.
Director Catherine Corsini has clearly delivered a film of contrasts at several levels: urban versus rural, emancipated versus traditional, as well as the two main characters who are total contrasts of each other, both physically and psychologically. It is impossible not to think of La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour) because of the similar themes, but the two films are really quite different in their respective approaches. It is a shame that the second part of the movie, set in the country, is noticeably slower and in many ways predictable, sometimes almost to the point of cliché. This could be because of the pace and the passion of the first part set in Paris, which follows in a sympathetic way the various actions of the feminist cell which range from the cheeky to the more radical. At a time like the present, it is refreshing and useful to be reminded of the battles that had to be won over the decades to get us where we are, and of the risks these women had to take.
By Véronique Bergeron.