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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "The Love of a Woman" (1953)

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Marie Prieur, a young doctor, decides to settle down on Ushant, a remote island in the English Channel. Little by little she manages to be accepted by the population. One day she meets André Lorenzi, a handsome engineer, and it is love at first sight. Life is wonderful for a while, but...

This film is notable for being director Jean Grémillon's final film. Though little known outside of France, Grémillon was a devoted filmmaker from his country's golden age and beyond. He was a classical violinist who turned to directing, and went on to make almost fifty films — from documentaries to avant-garde works to melodramas with major stars — in a career that spanned thirty years.

Two of his films have stood out to me in the past: "Stormy Waters" in 1941 and "The Woman Who Dared" in 1944, both starring Madeleine Renaud. Perhaps with this film coming to Blu-ray, a new re-discovery may emerge. Renaud, oddly enough, makes no appearance this time.

Grémillon rejected what he referred to as "mechanical naturalism" in favor of "the discovery of that subtlety which the human eye does not perceive directly but which must be shown by establishing the harmonies, the unknown relations, between objects and beings; it is a vivifying, inexhaustible source of images that strike our imaginations and enchant our hearts." Did this vision translate to his films? That is open to debate; for me, the style is very much a natural one, with the cinematography hinting at the melodramas of Douglas Sirk.

What was most striking about "The Love of a Woman" was its historical context. We must remember that women in France did not get the right to vote until the mid-1940s, and Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex" was not published until 1949. The heroine of this film is a modern woman. She not only achieved the vote in her lifetime, but earned a medical degree. She is forced to choose between her love and her career; and what a choice! Giving up a secretary job (or some other stereotypical "female" role) would be easy, but who can walk away from the medical profession after all the work that goes into it?

The Arrow Video Blu-ray is light on extras, but it does include "In Search of Jean Grémillon", a feature-length documentary on the filmmaker from 1969, containing interviews with director René Clair, archivist Henri Langlois, actors Micheline Presle and Pierre Brasseur, and others. What the disc lacks in bonus material, it more than makes up for by introducing a new generation to Gremillon.

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