La Bonne Epouse

A lot is going on here! Loads of stories. A housewife dealing with the death of her husband and the financial struggles of their business. A sister dealing with the guilt of thinking she killed her brother. Teenage girls burgeoning sexuality and deciding that what the future has in store for them is not what they want. A first love reigniting.

Set in the late 1960s, this film shows us a different world. Different for men, women and couples. Young people watching it might shake their heads and laugh at how backwards it seems.

Paulette (Juliette Binoche – Three Colours: Blue, Chocolat) and her husband Robert (Francois Berleand – The Transporter, Les Choristes) have run for many years a school which teaches teenage girls how to be perfect wives meaning they would stay at home, clean, cook, and tend to whatever their husband needed.

Along with Robert’s sister Gilberte (Yolande Moreau – Amelie, Rebels), who teaches cooking, and Sister Marie-Therese (Noemie Lvovsky – Camille Redouble), Paulette does most of the teaching while Robert takes care of the business side. As is typical of the time, each stays in their lane.

So, when Robert tragically dies after choking on a dinner cooked by Gilberte, Paulette is shocked to discover that she and the business are on the verge of bankruptcy. She is going to have to do plenty of things she never has before to keep the school going.

Everything is in flux around the usually totally in control woman. Things become even trickier when the school takes part in a television best housekeeping competition. At the same time an old love Andre (Edouard Baer – Asterix et Obelix: Mission Cleopatre) comes back into her life reawakening a passion she has not felt for years. Plenty of change of the very proper Paulette.

All this change leads to Paulette questioning her life and, really, the role of women. It is a time of change in the world as well with women fighting for more independence and choice.

Gender equality. Women are still fighting for it in 2020. After gaining the vote earlier in the 20th century the role of women stayed pretty stagnant until the late 60s coinciding with the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Those who had been held down by racist or antiquated behaviour and thought began fighting for equality.

Martin Provost’s (Seraphine, Sage Femme) film, he directs and co-wrote the script, takes a look at the roles of women in a satirical kind of way. The humour here is upfront. It is not a film which takes itself very seriously. There is even a big dance number towards the end to mark the change in the women – young and old. Yet it is still able to get its message across. That even the most “tow the line” type woman was looking for more freedom.

The entire cast does a good job in roles which are tricky. Meaning in lesser hands they could fall into the trap of being rather stereotypical or a one trick pony. Instead plenty of life is breathed into the strict nun, the goofy cook and the uptight headmistress.

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