The Love of a Woman Review
France is the birth country of modern cinema, and as such, they have an interesting relationship with the medium. While Hollywood may have taken over as the main exporter of celluloid entertainment, France was the first country to project a film, and they were also the first country to take it seriously as an art form. As a result, they have produced some of the finest films and filmmakers in cinematic history; we had French New Wave, Jaques Tati and someone who the French regard as one of the most important in their history is a man called Jean Gremillon. Now Arrow Academy is releasing his last feature film, The Love of a Woman, released in 1953 on Blu-ray. So is this the last masterpiece of an ignored French master or was it only good for the time?
Set on a small French island called Ouessant, Marie, a young doctor, is replacing the former GP of the island. However, when she first arrives, the townsfolk treat her as an outsider. She does eventually form some ties, namely to the old school teacher, Germaine Leblanc and Andre, an engineer posted there to construct a new building. Her relationships are tested as Leblanc, the islanders, and Andre start to pull Marie in different directions.
I am never sure how to describe the feeling I get when watching a film from the quote-unquote classical period of cinema, a time that stretched from the 1930s to the beginning of the 1960s. It can't be nostalgia because I was not around during the period but there is something warm, comforting and encompassing about these films. It might be in the tactile black and white cinematography - The Love of a Woman has an excellent look thanks to the cinematography by Louis Page. There is a glow to the film that is really enhanced by the 1080p transfer, and Arrow Academy has done a wonderful job in restoring and mastering the original footage. This, coupled with Robert Clavel's amazing production design means that the film looks splendid.
However, more than the look where this movie really shines is in the plot and the characters. The reason why I mention them together is because the two are inexorably linked. The Love of a Woman's story is powered by its characters, and we have a wonderful cast of them here. Micheline Presle is our heroine Dr Marie Prieur, no-nonsense, down to earth and full of life, she powers the film through her quiet performance filled with subtle nuance and great depth. We also have Gaby Morlay as the older school teacher, Germaine Leblanc, who offers great advice and a potential vision of what is to come for Marie as a female doctor. There is also Massimo Girotti as Andre, Marie's engineer love interest, who starts out roguish and charming and ends up a moron. Opposite Presele the two have a great chemistry and work well with each other, especially during some of the more dramatic scenes. But in and amongst the drama we have the Islanders to balance the film out with some unique and quirky individuals. Yes, the acting can get a little stagey like most films and melodramas of that period but I found myself endeared to all of the characters with a great mix of drama and humour well, all except Andre.
This plot for a film that was released almost 65 years ago is surprisingly modern. It is a film about gender roles, about the life of modern (well 1950s modern) French women being asked to make impossible choices which deal with careers and love. It is a question that is still asked of women today, and thus The Love of a Woman feels fresh and relevant. This is where Andre's heel turn is so powerful; you are behind the relationship for a little while, then when Andre becomes a little too demanding things take a turn for the tragic. However, it doesn't feel unnatural, melodramatic yes but there is always some sort of root in the real. With characters and performances this strong it can be hard not to be drawn into the film. I will say that I found myself shouting at Marie at the end of the film, there is still hope at the end - like with all melodramas - that she will find the one who truly loves her.
I really enjoyed this film and followed it up with an exploration of the disc's extras. Arrow Academy has included a feature length documentary about the director of the film, Jean Gremillion, that was made in 1969 for French television. While it appears to be the standard tribute to a great artist, it does a lot to tell those unfamiliar with Gremillon's work who he was and what he meant to French film fans. This is the only extra I am afraid, and it does seem to be lacking further information about the director; I would have liked to have seen more from this disc, to be honest. To further analyse the quality of the disc itself, other than the video and audio tracks, which is presented in an uncompressed mono for the original French Language version, it is well implemented without any digital or analogue errors, Arrow's menus are well thought out and pleasing to use with clear headings as well as clear optional English subtitles for the feature itself.
The Love of a Woman is a lovely film; a wonderfully romantic, old school film with a modern plot and modern issues. Its leading cast provide an excellent doorway into the island, and they are people that you want to spend more time with (except for Andre). While Arrow has done an excellent job in packaging this disc technically, they are slightly let down by the lack of extras available. Regardless, if you are a fan of classical cinema, French cinema or looking to have a good cathartic cry then The Love of a Woman is a Blu-ray you need to have in your collection.