|This article first appeared in Humans of Film Amsterdam|

A profound film about a young woman’s journey into an unideal adulthood. Her journey is a passionate heartbreak that is filled with hope and naivety. Une Vie is a timeless story about human emotions.

Une Vie shows the transition of Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) into adulthood throughout key moments of her life in the 1800s. The film starts with the return of Jeanne to her aristocratic home in Normandy. She was in a boarding school for her whole childhood and adolescence. Now back home, she feels happy. She falls in love with Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud) and marries him. However, he does not reserve his good looks solely for her, as he has several love affairs. Jeanne discovers that ideals in the life outside the boarding school might not mean anything in a society where appearances are more important than anything else. Her only hope is that her son Paul (Finnegan Oldfield) will come back home.

Une Vie was directed by Stéphane Brizé and it is an adaptation of the novel with the same name written by Guy de Maupassant which was serialised in 1883 in the Gil Blas (a literary newspaper). Stéphane Brizé’s works have been awarded several prizes, including the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for The Measure of a Man (2015). His latest work Une Vie was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film in competition at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival in which it was also selected to compete for the Golden Lion. Last year, Une Vie won the Louis Delluc Prize for Best Film.

Une Vie does an extraordinary job of portraying Jeanne’s emotions and the rupture of these. Slowly through her journey, she realises that adult life is different than what she imagined. She seems fragile but her fixed ideals and empathy make her a strong character. When living at her parents’ home, her time of innocence is clearly marked by the use of light colours, in which she wears flower patterns and daylight is abundant. However, when she marries Julien the winter arrives along with a dark period. Jeanne’s emotions are reflected through the seasons, which also inform the viewers of the time passing by.

The seasons are not the only door to her emotions, but also the camerawork. Brizé’s choice for close-ups and long shots immerse us in the uncomfortable and painful moments of Jeanne – for instance when Julien and Jeanne share their first night together. Jeanne is not pleased and her discomfort is visible. She might want to go away but she can’t, as her husband continues with his doing. The viewer is confronted with this situation, which is emphasised by the close-up. Moreover, the use of handheld camera reinforces the idea of being there and brings flashbacks of a happier time.

Une Vie is an absolutely gorgeous film that captures your attention – from the editing and camerawork to the performances of the actors and their costumes. Its slow pace could be less attractive for viewers of popular cinema who are often used to steady shots and a faster pace. Nevertheless, this film captivated me through the way it displays Jeanne’s emotions and her journey into a drastic love that will actually be a torment and will mark her whole life.


Rating:  4 out of 5 broken hearts.

Original Title: Une vie (also known as: A Woman’s Life)

Director: Stéphane Brizé

Cast: Clotilde Hesme, Swann Arlaud, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Yolande Moreau, Finnegan Oldfield, Judith Chemla, Olivier Perrier, Lise Lamétrie, Marc Olry, Nina Meurisse, Alain Beigel, Père François-Xavier Ledoux, Lucette Beudin, Jérôme Lanne, Mélie Deneuve.

Year: 2016

Runtime: 1h 59m

Initial release: 23 November 2016 (France), 27 July 2017 (Netherlands).


Trailer | Image: Image provided by Film Depot. Photo by Michaal Crotto.