The First World War seen and recounted without explosions nor shootings, but through the female view of those countrywomen forced to run the farm while all the men were at the front. This is Les Gardiennes
, the new film by Xavier Beauvois
, director of the remarkable Of Gods and Men
, adapting here the novel of the same name by Ernest Pérochon. Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet
and Iris Bry
are the protagonists of this story starting in 1915 in a French rural area: the matriarch Hortense employs a young orphan, Francine, as a labourer because, with the only aid of her daughter, she cannot handle it anymore. But when his son Georges returns from war, a fatal crack will divide the small female community.
In the words of the Cannes-winning director: "How can you tell about war with powerful images, but without showing it directly? We've already seen so much that things leave us indifferent, we are impenetrable to suffering. Key elements are the arrivals and departures of men, that interrupt the fight of the women against nature." The film also has a feminist connotation in showing the precise historical moment in which the female labour force asserts its autonomy. It's no surprise that the producer who strongly wanted to make this film is a woman too, Sylvie Pialat
The widow of the great director is here in Mar del Plata to attend the festival's homage to his late husband. She tells about the origin of this project: "My grandfather only owned one book, Les Gardiennes
, written by a peasant-novelist wounded during WWI. Six years ago, I sent the book to Beauvois because I thought he was the right director, being him of peasant origins as well. He never replied, but one day I met him at a festival where he told me: 'sure, I perfectly remember the exact point in my bookshelves where I put the book, although I haven't read it yet.' Then he told me he wanted to make a film about the invasion of Normandy but it was too expensive, so I suggested this one again, because it was an extraordinary way to tell about war without even showing one battle."
According to Pialat - who has collaborated for over 30 years with her late husband as scriptwriter and producer - Les Gardiennes
is paying homage to the courage of wives and widows: "During the conflict they took the place of men in every sector. We are all sons of these women who lived beyond suffering, death, loss, exertion."
She tells about how she began working in cinema just by chance: "I was working in an Argentinian restaurant in Paris to pay my studies. There I met Cyril Collard who arranged for me to have a meeting with Maurice who was looking for an assistant, although he was known for his bad temper. Actually, when I entered the room and he was watching the dailies of A nos amours
, he basically sent me to hell. But then I got the job and at the end of the shooting we got married. No abuses, in this case."
Pialat, who names Daniel Toscan du Plantier as his master, is currently working on a number of project now in post-production, including the new film by Guillaume Nicloux starring Gérard Depardieu (The End
) and Cédric Kahn's La prière
a facility for drug addicts.