Slough Cooperative Film Society Slough Cooperative Film Society

The Society has been showing the best of world and independent cinema in Slough for 70 years

 

3rd December 2019 DATCHET VILLAGE HALL

THE GUARDIANS (Les gardiennes)

France/Switzerland 138 mins Cert. 15

 

Hortense Nathalie Baye Director Xavier Beauvois
Francine Iris Bry Screenplay Xavier Beauvois
Solange Laura Smet Frederique Moreau
Georges Cyril Descours Marie-Julie Maille
Henri Gilbert Bonneau Cinematograpy Caroline Champetier
Edgar Xavier Maly Editor Marie-Julie Maille
Clovis Olivier Rabourdin Music Michel Legrand
Monette Marie-Julie Maille
Jeanne Madeleine Beauvois
 Constant Nicolas Giraud
Les gardiennes poster

Skilfully written, directed and played, this Great War drama is complex and engaging, exploring important issues of gender and class. And its themes are remarkably current considering that it's based on a 1924 novel. Filmmaker Xavier Beauvois creates what feels like a timeless classic with its big story, intensely involving characters and French countryside setting.

With brothers Georges and Constant and brother-in-law Clovis at the front, the women must run the family farm. In need of help, matriarch Hortense and her daughter Solange hire 20-year-old Francine as a farmhand, and she becomes part of the family. She also can't help but fall in love with Georges when he's on leave, which is a problem because Hortense wants him to marry local girl Marguerite. But the main priority over the next five years is to keep things running until the men come home.

Of course, over this timespan, both the men and women are changed fundamentally. The returning soldiers are haunted by the horrors they experienced firsthand, and the women have discovered their strength and independence. How each of them works out these issues is woven into the framework of the plot without ever pushing the point. And Beauvois is careful to keep scenes realistic using plenty of humour and passion, as well as a clever dose of irony.

The characters are remarkably complex, often deeply unlikeable as they do rather horrible things, jump to conclusions and sometimes callously dismiss those they love. But all of these feelings are easy to identify with, especially as seen through the pure eyes of the innocent Francine, who is played with knowing touches by newcomer Bry. Meanwhile, Baye has the bold, uncompromising role as a loving mother whose loyalties are pushed to the breaking point. And Smet (Baye's real-life daughter) brings subtle textures of her own.

With events more than a century in the past, the story reminds us that we've come a long way since then, but aren't nearly as enlightened as we like to think we are. The status of women in this society is depicted in a bracingly earthy way: these women are running everything while their men are off killing each other. Then the men return and immediately resume control, quickly reigniting old rivalries and petty grudges that echo their controlling natures. This is delicately underplayed, but the point is provocative.

Rich Cline at www.shadowsonthewall.com