Dir.: Xavier Beauvois | Cast: Nathalie Baye, Iris Bry, Laura Smet, Cyril Descours, Gilbert Bonneau, Olivier Rabourdin, Nicolas Girand, Mathilde Viseux; France 2017 | 134′
Xavier Beauvois imagines the heroic sacrifices made by the women left at home during the Great War (1914-18) and shows shows that he has come a long way since his kitchen-sink debut feature Nord (1991) Based on the 1924 novel by Gouncourt winning author Ernest Perochon, and stunningly shot by Caroline Champetier, THE GUARDIANS, set is a celebration of female emancipation, played by a brilliant ensemble cast, lead by Nathalie Baye as the matriarch.
Widow Hortense (Baye is fine form) is left in charge of the Paridier farm after her sons Constant (Girond) and Georges (Descours) are sent to the Front; they are soon joined by her daughter Solange’s (Smet) husband Clovis (Rabourdin). Helped by her father Henri (Bonneau), Hortense not only manages the farm hands, but works the land herself, in a bid to ensure that their livelihood continues while the men make occasional visits from the Front. In spite of her best efforts, she has to hire a newcomer, the orphan Francine (the outstanding debutant Bry) who is not only a good worker, but initiates the acquisition of a tractor and a harvesting machine. When Georges comes back from the front for a week, he falls in love with Francine, to the chagrin of local girl Marguerite (Viseux), who is favoured by Hortense to marry her son.
Without making an idyll of nature, Champetier frames every shot with great care, so that the soft hues of the landscape form a glowing backdrop to the toiling humans; making fabulous use of the transcendent light. The motions of the predominantly female workers are caught in their perpetual movements, even though their work is gruelling, there is always a certain rhythmic elegance at play. This is a complete contrast to Riefenstahl’s Olympia films, where female athletes were shown in short, hectic clips, focusing on an immediate target, like robots robbed of their human qualities. Beauvois lets the camera linger, allowing the scenes play out gracefully. Admittedly, there is some self-indulgence, which manifests itself in the running time, but like Thomas Hardy, some novels need to be transferred to the big screen in their full length. Lusciously photographed, but poignant in its dramatic conflicts, THE GUARDIANS is almost a masterpiece. AS
SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017