A French-language feature from director Stéphane Brizé, ‘A Woman’s Life’ shakes off the trappings of stuffy traditional period dramas. It’s shot and paced like a modern realist arthouse film, not unlike Andrea Arnold’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. There’s a dash of Austen-flavoured social comment, from observations of niceties to the hypocrisies of both family and church.
Judith Chemla is terrific as Jeanne, a young woman leading a sheltered, privileged and happy life in rural Normandy in 1819. She lives with her mother (Yolande Moreau), her father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and her maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse), whom she treats like a sister. When handsome local Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Alaud) enters her life, she hopes for wedded bliss. But he soon shows his true colours and we watch the ensuing decades with a mixture of fascination and dismay.
Don’t expect Austen-style humour, though: ultimately, you may be frustrated by a narrative that punishes its pleasant protagonist so thoroughly. But credit to Brizé and crew for an impressive piece of filmmaking with a refreshingly contemporary approach.