The 2018 Chicago European Union Film Festival – Part 8

The 2018 European Union Film Festival is back at the Gene Siskel Film Center, from March 9th to April 5th.

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Iris Bry and Nathalie Baye in “The Guardians.” credit: Music Box Films

Xavier Beauvois is clearly an extraordinarily talented French director, and I don’t want to steal his thunder – this is a great film, and my favorite of the festival so far. But casting director Karen Hottois did him immeasurable service in discovering the superb Iris Bry, and the visual narrative of his newest film, The Guardians (Les Guardiennes) (France, 2017) is so beautifully wrought that it’s tough not to sing the praises of his veteran cinematographer Caroline Champetier. She’s been a prolific cinematographer since the early eighties, shooting for Jacques Rivette, Chantal Akerman, Leos Carax and, of course, earlier Beauvois films.

I emphasize this because Beauvois’ clear intention is to praise the courage, resourcefulness and resilience of women, specifically those who stayed home while fathers and sons left home to fight World War I. The film follows the Sandrail family, caretakers of Le Pardier farm. All three of the sons of Hortense Sandrail (Nathalie Baye, superb) and her frail husband Henri (Gilbert Bonneau) have gone to war, leaving the work of the farm to herself and her daughter–in–law Solange (Laura Smet). They could use a little help, but the only available laborer turns out to be another woman, the young but hardy Francine (Iris Bry, in a solidly impressive debut). Immensely helpful, diligent and well-mannered, Francine turns out to be a godsend. But the sons get leave from time to time, American soldiers pop in here and there, and co-ed complications, sadly, inevitably,ensue.

Collaborating with Marie-Julie Maille and Frédérique Moreau to adapt Ernest Perochon’s 1924 novel, Beauvois keeps the dialogue sparse and efficient – he knows he can rely on his actors to show us, not tell us, what’s important. Long passages of the film feel like Jean-François Millet paintings come-to-life, but we feel real intimacy with the laboring figures. The performances are great, the film looks sensational, the story is movingly straightforward and there’s even an honest-to-God Michel Legrand musical score. This is a wonderful film.

“The Guardians” will be shown on Sunday, March 25th at 2:30 pm and Thursday the 29th at 6:00 pm.

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