A Woman’s Life is French screenwriter/director’s Stéphane Brizé’s achingly human (his signature brand!) riff on Jane Austen-fare, based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant.
Forsaking such material’s conventional depictions on screen of transient torment leading to the implicitly permanent joy of finding love, Brizé instead focuses on the pervasive anguish caused by the limitations imposed on a woman’s life in the 19th century, which are emphasized by the noticeably-confined aspect ratio literally limiting the size of the screen’s portrayal of this world.
The handheld cinematography – the thoughtfully-deliberate framing makes “guerrilla” an inapt descriptive adjective – further emotionally humanizes the story by making the audience feel painfully close to the thus seemingly-realistic proceedings, replacing the sweeping, doll’s house-esque aesthetics that often artificially sap the humanity from these types of movies.
A Woman’s Life also contains one of the best sex scenes and final shots of the year:
The most memorable sex scenes are those that elucidate aspects of the movie and/or characters; titillation need not apply. The sex scene here further dramatizes the plight of women by being shot claustrophobically-close to her (Judith Chemla) anguished and confused face underneath the weight and size of the man’s body, preventing her from unrestrained freedom.
The debatable implications of the last shot make it one of the 2017’s best: adopting the baby may seem like a happy ending for the lead since her life has purpose once more, but can the baby’s life come with more joyous purpose than her mother’s? Or will it be the same cavalcade of disappointment with fleeting – and limited, since she’s a woman – moments of joy in between?