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Review: A Women’s Affair (1988)

Directed by: | 108 minutes | , | Actors: , , , , , , , , Marie Bunel, , ,

In many lists of the best actresses of the past decades, her name is featured: Isabelle Huppert. Like no other, the Frenchwoman knows how to personify the restrained emotion. Behind that sometimes steel-hard facade there are a lot of obsessions and neuroses. From the outside, she seems to be doing just fine, but inside she’s about to explode. There is something mysterious about it, something mysterious. Nor is she afraid of portraying unsympathetic women; women who manipulate or are capable of violence. On the one hand she radiates an ice-cold intelligence, but on the other hand there are few actresses who can suffer so convincingly. That she doesn’t need much time to make an indelible impression, she proves with her tiny but unforgettable role in ‘Les falseuses’ (1974); she was only 21 years old at the time. Huppert’s international breakthrough came with ‘La dentellière’ (1977), the that earned her a BAFTA. A year later, ‘Violette Nozière’ (1978), her first film with director Claude Chabrol, followed. In this true story, she plays a girl who poisoned her parents when she was 18 and turned the country upside down. Undeterred, she portrays a woman who is both a victim and a perpetrator. A role that earned her the well-deserved prize for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival. Undeterred, she portrays a woman who is both a victim and a perpetrator. A role that earned her the well-deserved prize for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival. Undeterred, she portrays a woman who is both a victim and a perpetrator. A role that earned her the well-deserved prize for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival.

After ‘Violette Nozière’, Huppert would make six more films with Claude Chabrol, including ‘Une affaire de femmes’ from 1988. This story is also based on true facts and here too she goes undaunted in her search for a way to survive in France at the time of the Vichy regime. And here too the question arises: is she a victim of the circumstances or is she a perpetrator, someone who benefits from the misery of others? Who is more to blame for the abuses; the government with the enemy or this poor and lonely mother of two small children? In 1941 France, the humble Marie Latour (Isabelle Huppert) tries to make ends meet as best she can. Her husband Paul (François Cluzet) has recently returned from a German prison camp and is quite weakened. He is not the one who has to bring in money, she quickly realizes. But what can she do? Then she accidentally bumps into a neighbor (Marie Bunel) who is trying to abort her unborn child. After all, who wants an extra mouth to feed these days? Marie decides to help her by using a different method. The abortion was successful and as a thank you she gets a record player from the neighbor. While enjoying the , she realizes that a smart woman does not allow herself to be trapped by poverty, but finds her own ways to make money. After all, who wants an extra mouth to feed these days? Marie decides to help her by using a different method. The abortion was successful and as a thank you she gets a record player from the neighbor. While enjoying the music, she realizes that a smart woman does not allow herself to be trapped by poverty, but finds her own ways to make money. After all, who wants an extra mouth to feed these days? Marie decides to help her by using a different method. The abortion was successful and as a thank you she gets a record player from the neighbor. While enjoying the music, she realizes that a smart woman does not allow herself to be trapped by poverty, but finds her own ways to make money.

Corruption abounds in Vichy France and the black market is rampant; why shouldn’t she get her share? After all, there is a market for it and it can use the money well. And so she starts a clandestine abortion clinic at home. It quickly turns out to be a lucrative business. Many women whose husbands fight on the front line start affairs and get pregnant, not waiting for a baby. The fact that abortion is illegal does not seem to occur to Marie for a moment. When her old friend Lucie (Marie Trintignant) also comes in, who nowadays earns her money as a prostitute, she decides to offer her shelter in her apartment. Soon all the women who ‘went wrong’ find out where to find her and the money is pouring in. To Paul’s dismay, who is frustrated not only that he does not bring in money, but also because Marie ignores his advances: she has now found a young lover in the person of Lucien (Nils Tavernier), a collaborator, indeed. To keep her husband happy, she pays the maid (Evelyne Didi) to seduce him. It is the ultimate humiliation for Paul, who will not stop here …

The account of Marie Latour, who was actually called Marie-Louise Giraud, is well known in France. Claude Chabrol was so fascinated by her fate that he wanted to make a film about it. What got into her, what were her motivations? And was she not more or less forced by the regime to engage in illegal activities because she and her children would not survive the hardships of the war? Chabrol subtly plays with that guilt question. He knew better than anyone how to paint a picture of a criminal who does not seem to feel any emotion when committing his criminal activities: it leaves him – or her – cold. No wonder he loved working with Isabelle Huppert, an actress whose face is hard to read. The actress was awarded the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival for this role. She lets the viewer guess what is going on in her character, what she thinks and feels. Does she feel anything at all? Her role as an abortionist does not seem to have an idealistic purpose; it seems to her purely for the money it brings her. Despite that cold detachment and, related to that, the difficulty we have to fathom her and feel sympathy or empathy for her, we are fascinated by her. Chabrol does not condemn her – and neither do the other characters – and let the viewer draw their own conclusion. And that is precisely what makes the elusive ‘Une affaire de femmes’ so fascinating and powerful. it seems to her purely for the money it brings her. Despite that cold detachment and, related to that, the difficulty we have to fathom her and feel sympathy or empathy for her, we are fascinated by her. Chabrol does not condemn her – and neither do the other characters – and allows the viewer to draw their own conclusion. And that is precisely what makes the elusive ‘Une affaire de femmes’ so fascinating and powerful. it seems to her purely for the money it brings her. Despite that cold detachment and, related to that, the difficulty we have to fathom her and feel sympathy or empathy for her, we are fascinated by her. Chabrol does not condemn her – and neither do the other characters – and lets the viewer draw their own conclusion. And that is precisely what makes the elusive ‘Une affaire de femmes’ so fascinating and powerful.

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