Rightwing Film Geek

The secret lives of smelters


LA FEMME DE GILLES (Frederic Fonteyne, France, 8)

The amazing thing about Emannuelle Devos’ performance in this film is that it might not even be her best of this festival. In this film, she plays a traditional 1930s wife in small-town France (and in ROIS ET REINE, she is just as good as a contemporary thrice-married social climber). LA FEMME DE GILES begins with a wordless but marvelously-shot, framed and edited sequence of moments from Gilles’ daily life, starting with him at work at a steel plant and culminating in bed with his wife, Elisa (a scene that was absorbing without being ostentatiously “hot”). But fairly soon, Elisa starts to suspect Gilles is cheating on her with her sister. As Elisa, Devos looks a bit like Sandra Bernhard, only without the harsh sneer chiseled into La Sandra’s face and with much better natural command of her face and body language. That wonderful face and the way she uses it gives Elisa a combination of intelligence and innocence — she can read the signs but can’t believe Her Gilles would do that to her — without a hint of Modern Woman. Devos plays opposite Clovis Cornillac, who has a broad-shouldered, round-faced mensch quality, ideal for playing a pre-psychological working-class male. Much of the film’s drama, like in last year’s brilliant THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS, comes from exchanges of glances, things unsaid and suspected, and a few voyeur’s peeks. Fonteyne also reveals a bit more of an eye than I recall him demonstrating in the also-excellent AN AFFAIR OF LOVE from 2000 (the cut to a movie theater, when Elisa becomes convinced Gilles is cheating, is marvelously dry and ironic). This film would have been a contender for best of the festival if it hadn’t been for the last 3 minutes (an “acte gratuit” coming at the end of a meticulously-observed character study — wrong in every conceivable way). And I could REALLY have done without the after-film Q-and-A and hearing Fonteyne’s lame (“it was in the novel”) and nonsensical (“she had come to realize she could be someone other than Gilles’ wife”) excuses for a blot on an otherwise excellent film.


September 12, 2004 - Posted by | Frederic Fonteyne, TIFF 2004

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