The Vernon Film Society’s third film of the fall season is Les Gardiennes (The Guardians), an intimate war-time French epic.
It’s a sublime love and family story filled with characters whose lives we sink into, feeling the hope, the sadness, the sorrow and the joy right along with those on the screen.
The rare wartime story in which women’s lives take centre stage, it stars the usually urbane and sophisticated Nathalie Baye as a farm matriarch. The setting is the First World War from 1915 to 1920 in an area of rural France where all able-bodied men have gone to the front, leaving their wives to hold this traditional world together.
Key players, aside from Baye, are veteran director Xavier Beauvois and, in her screen debut the riveting and luminous actress Iris Bry. Beauvois, whose previous films include the Baye-starring Le Petit Lieutenant and the superlative Cesar-winning Of Gods and Men, is working for the first time from a novel (published in 1924 by Ernest Pérochon, a veteran of the war).
Beauvois and his co-writers slowly reveal what war, the eternal “power of chaos,” did to one family and its world. It’s not just the things that change that are compelling, the way women are able to take charge and get it done on their own, but the things that don’t. Above all, there is still hope.
Beautifully shot by Caroline Champetier in the picturesque Limousin area — a part of France that has not changed much in the last century — Les Gardiennes uses the grace of the landscape as a constant. That and the backbreaking, unceasing nature of farm work and the rituals of the rural year.
Besides the agricultural year, Les Gardiennes is organized around consecutive on-leave visits from the three men who are crucial to the lives of Madame Hortense and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, Baye’s real-life daughter). How these characters and others interact within a framework that is centuries old; but already changing is at the heart of what Les Gardiennes is about. If you let it weave its spell, it will hold you and won’t let you go.
Les Gardiennes is screening at the Galaxy Cinemas (Theater 1, Polson Park Mall) Oct. 3 at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. Regular prices of $7. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Bean Scene one week prior to screen date or purchased at the door. Rated PG with subtitles.