Review: A Simple Story (1978)

Directed by: Claude Sautet | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Romy Schneider, Bruno Cremer, Claude Brasseur, Arlette Bonnard, Sophie Daumier, Eva Darlan, Francine Bergé, Roger Pigaut, Madeleine Robinson, Jacques Sereys, Jean-François Garreaud, Yves Knapp, Nicolas Sempe, Vera Schroeder, Xavier Gélin, Jean Deschamps, Nadine Alari, Pierre Semmler, Michel Debost, Pierre Forget, Patricia Francis, Blanche Ravalec

The social drama ‘Une histoire simple’ ended the collaboration between director Claude Sautet and actress Romy Schneider. That liaison started eight years earlier with the beautiful ‘Les choses de la vie’ and would produce a total of five films. Schneider’s untimely death in 1982 made further cooperation definitely impossible. ‘Une histoire simple’ turned out to be a closing song in style, although the quality of the film would be slightly behind that phenomenal first album.

As the title suggests, ‘Une histoire simple’ tells a simple story. Marie, near her forties, leaves her boyfriend Serge and returns to former husband Georges. When she once again shows her worst side, Marie opts for an independent existence.

As simple as the story is, this histoire could have been a lot simpler if there weren’t so many characters walking around. Certainly in the beginning, as a viewer you have to do your best (too) hard to figure out who is actually who, and who belongs to whom and who does not. Fortunately, with Marie, there is only one real protagonist, so that you have at least one target.

Although the personal drama in ‘Une histoire Simple’ is not always that interesting, the film does give a striking picture of the French middle class at the end of the 1970s. The moral liberation of the 1960s had taken place in the course of the 1970s. expanded into the lower classes for years, leaving behind a smoldering mess of broken homes, lonely individuals, and relationships doomed by disloyalty. On the other hand, the modern woman no longer had to conform to the whims of her husband and could build an independent existence on her own.

Increasing economic liberalization has also had its winners and losers. Man or woman, young or old, anyone could compete in the race for the best jobs and everyone could fall victim to budget cuts and mergers. Sautet uses his characters to show both sides of progress: Marie who is able to build an independent existence and the old Jérôme who is thrown into the garbage as a worn-out employee.

All this is brought in the tradition of the French chat film, so that your ears ring out afterwards. But even with ringing ears, it’s still worth seeing Schneider acting under the direction of Sautet. The director always managed to bring out the best in the actress, making their collaboration one of the most fruitful in film history. Those who want a brilliant taste of it should check out ‘Les choses de la vie’. For those who are happy with a little less, ‘Une histoire simple’ is a great alternative.

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