THE LOVE OF A WOMAN is French filmmaker Jean Grémillon’s swan song before his death in 1959 at the age of 58, Grémillon’s name has remained relatively unknown outside France, and his aesthetics and techniques are often coined as“enchanted realism”, an antecedent anticipates the slam-bang French New Wave.
The film takes place in the north-westernmost point of France, the Ushant island, where the new replacement of its retired village doctor is an unmarried 28-year-old woman Marie Prieur (Presle, who is still with us today at the age of 96), who has to overcome the local inhabitants’ prejudice and earn her place in the village through her professional aptitude, meanwhile, she falls in love an engineer André Lorenzi (a virile Girotti), who is assigned to a project lasting six months in the island, when marriage is propounded to her as a getaway from the harsh insularity she inhabits and dreads, the option is clear, to become a full-time housewife or remain as a singleton country doctor.
The sticking point here now seems obsolete but what amazes viewers is Grémillon’s skill of story-telling, emotions are trenchantly condensed through the cast’s uncontrived acting, initially dispirited by Andre’s blinkered proposal, Marie takes an about-face when she witnesses the comeuppance of Germaine Leblanc (a solicitous Gaby Morlay), the school teacher who devotes all her life to her students, only succumbs to an abrupt death right after her retirement, yet, not a single tear is shedded in her funeral, it is this noxious apathy that brings forth Marie’s disenchantment, and she wants out, even a wedlock diminishes her worth. Only if André could accept that, he is machismo and narrow-minded, but not air-headed, once he realizes her competence and the fact that she revels in her competence, he is sober enough to pull the plug before making a commitment he cannot abide by, a cruel maneuver but not entirely irrational, which in itself reflects Grémillon’s lucid conception of what a grown-up love affair should look like.
The film’s provincial locale is captured with astonishing pulchritude under the rein of Grémillon and DP Louis Page, a studio-bound sequence of a life-boat buffeted by a tempestuous storm shows up Grémillon’s eclectic approach which isn’t circumscribed by a Sisyphean obsession of realism, whereas a veri-similar surgical operation passage ensures that Marie has an able hand and is a true asset to the community. Propelled by leading actressMicheline Presle’s top-notch embodiment of our heroine, THE LOVE OF A WOMAN should belatedly put Grémillon’s name on the international map alongside his more fêted peers, a maestro unfortunately stuck in the limbo of oblivion for too long.
referential points: Michelangelo Antonioni’s STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR (1950, 6.0/10); Henri-Georges Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU (1943, 7.1/10).