Stars: Nathalie Bay, Laura Smet, Iris Bry, Cyril Descours, Gilbert Bonneau
There have been a number of recent films commemorating the centenary of World War 1. French director, Beauvois’s picture delves into a hitherto underexplored aspect, the plight of the women who stayed at home to maintain the farms. The picture, adapted from Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel, covers about five years in the life of one rural family. With the able young menfolk of the French region of Limousin off to fight, it is left to family matriarch Hortense (Baye) and her daughter Solange (Baye’s real life offspring Smet) to keep the farm running. In need of another pair of hands, they take on the twenty-year-old Francine (excellent newcomer Bry) a quiet but hard-working young woman, raised as an orphan, who quickly becomes a valued member of the household. When one of Hortense’s sons Georges (Descours) returns, he falls for Francine, and they begin a correspondence when he returns to the front. While Caroline Champetier’s blue-hued photography throws up some arresting painterly mages, the muted melodrama feels more suited to Sunday afternoon TV than the big screen, with the prettified aesthetic undermining any sense of the gruelling hardscrabble life the women had to endure. Still, there are some nice touches in the sequences which illustrate how encroaching modernity is lightening the load for the working women, and in a genuinely stirring postscript where we catch up with Francine after the war.