Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Woman Next Door (La femme d'à côté)

I continue my investigation into the work of François Truffaut (Jules et Jim, Shoot the Pianist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind [Actor]) with a look at his 1981 offering here, a French relationship-based drama/thriller which offers a shift from the tone of his earlier work.

Bernard, Arlette and their son Thomas live in a quiet French village in the countryside. A tranquil life is depicted, a family lovingly committed to each other. All of a sudden, the empty cottage next to them is taken by Philippe and Mathilde and Bernard's life is turned upside down. Eight years prior, Bernard and Mathilde had been involved in a relationship, which ended amicably. The narrative suggests that neither of them knew this new meeting was to happen and that it was chance. However, it re-sparked the passion which was left behind and they, without telling the spouses, start meeting in secret for you-know-what. So far, it sounds like a bit of a comic farce, but it really isn't. Like many French films of the ilk, it's a tragic story of obsession, lost love, disatisfaction, opportunity, frustration and philosophical reflection - which you won't want to turn off until the final frame as all the above gives way to a thrilling climax.

Gérard Depardieu (Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, My Father the Hero) plays Bernard convincingly enough, though I felt as though he wasn't trying as hard as the other three. Fanny Ardant (Nathalie, Paris, je t'aime, Elizabeth) steals the show really, not as the raving beauty in the cast but rather because she seems to embrace the role and was trying hard to make Mathilde herself. She pulls this off well. Henri Garcin (The Pink Panther) ably plays the lesser part of Philippe and Michèle Baumgartner as Arlette.

The two main leads draw the viewer into their adulterous world but I didn't think the best was made of the delivery in terms of enabling the audience to adopt any empathy for the cheated-on spouses. More could have been made of the impact of shifts in behaviour towards them both, even if they were kept in-the-dark. The shooting style is simple and very 1980's European with emphasis on artistic delivery, though I didn't think that the photography was executed as well as other work of the era - or indeed Truffaut's earlier work. At times it almost felt like he wasn't that interested in the project much either.

Having said all the above, it held my attention and makes some interesting points about life and love, regret and rejection. There's a sub-story running alongside the main one which smartly emulates a related theme, which had ended in sadness and tragedy. As we find out more about that, we build towards the climax of the main story wondering if the outcomes will be similar, or if Bernard will take heed from his learning about the past and provide a safety-net for those who might be potentially hurt - or worse. Well worth a look if you're a fan of the director or style.

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