The Guardians



Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 94%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 73%
IMDb Rating 7 10 686


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Howard Schumann 9 / 10

A work of compelling emotional force

In his film "Of Gods and Men," director Xavier Beauvois tells the story of seven Roman Catholic French Trappist monks kidnapped by radical Islamists from their monastery in a village in Algeria during the Algerian Civil War, and the sacrifices that people of good will in both religions were willing to make. Sacrifice is also a theme of Beauvois latest film, The Guardians, his first film shot in digital. It is a superbly realized and emotionally engaging film that dramatizes the strength and courage of the women left behind during World War I when all able-bodied men were fighting in the trenches. A quiet, contemplative film, it is beautifully photographed by Caroline Champetier ("The Innocents") who captures the bucolic loveliness of the Limousin area of south central France.

Now part of the new region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, it is the least populated region of Metropolitan France and most likely has not changed much since the years in which the film takes place. Based on a 1924 novel by war veteran Ernest Pérochon, Beauvois and his co-writers Frédérique Moreau and Marie-Julie Maille gradually reveal the impact of the war on one family whose two sons and son-in-law have left for the front. Supported by a moving score by Michelle Legrand ("The Price of Fame"), the film covers a period of five years from 1915 to 1920, the years during and following the Great War in Europe, one that would claim an estimated 45 million military dead and wounded and 7.7 million missing or imprisoned.

The film opens in 1915 in a combat zone where we see the bodies of dead soldiers lying in the mud. The scene abruptly shifts to the Paridier farm in France, a place of quiet beauty that stands in sharp contrast to the heartbreak of the battlefield. It is a difficult time for the farm run by widowed matriarch Hortense Sandrail (Nathalie Baye, "Moka") with the help of her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, "Yves Saint-Laurent," Baye's real-life daughter) and her elderly father Henri (Gilbert Bonneau). Beauvois shows the heroism of the women furrowing, seeding, harvesting, grinding wheat, and taking it to market. It is backbreaking work and will be years before combines and tractors are introduced.

As the men periodically return home on leave, it becomes clear that each of them is damaged in some way. Hortense's oldest son Constant (Nicholas Giraud, "Anton Chekhov 1890"), a former schoolteacher, tells his mother that he endured, "two years of hell, some people went mad," and says without any evidence that "after the war, it will be different." Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin, "My Golden Days"), Solange's husband drinks heavily and stands up for the humanity of the Germans ("they are just like us") in opposition to the feelings of the family and the community. Finally, it is Hortense's son Georges (Cyril Descours, "Red Sky") who carries himself with a certain pride and even arrogance.

Frustrated by the need for another person to help her run the farm during the harvest season, Hortense hires Francine, a twenty-year-old auburn-haired orphan, remarkably performed by newcomer Iris Bly. In addition to the chores, Hortense must contend with some rowdy American soldiers stationed in the village awaiting their orders, while also looking after Marguerite (Mathilde Viseux), Clovis's daughter from his first marriage. Complications arise when Francine and George fall in love, much to the chagrin of the much younger Marguerite, assumed to be the girl that George would marry. The friction between members of the family forms the centerpiece of the film and Beauvois weaves a complex and unpredictable story without resorting to melodrama.

Unfortunately, when the town's rumor mill goes into high gear spreading all kinds of rumors, Francine's future is left on shaky ground. Even more disturbing is the sad news from the front delivered by a local official who just appears at the door. As events unfold, we are drawn closer to each character, able to relate to their hopes and sorrows as if we have known them all of their lives. Though The Guardians is a film of subtlety and restraint, it is also a work of compelling emotional force and one of the year's best films.

Reviewed by maurice yacowar 8 / 10

Mother secures family farm in WW I but not without selfish ruin.

The title is inadequately translated. The English "Guardians" is gender neutral. The French "Guardiennes" is explicitly feminine. That's the point. This film, a noble return to the classic French narrative style, exalts the role women played during WW I, not just running the family farm but in preserving the family unit, the larger social structure and civilized values. As the first two shots explain, the men are off dead and dying on the battlefield. Meanwhile, back on the farm, it's the matriarch Hortense pushing the plow behind the overworked mare. The rural beauty of France stands in implicit contrast to the violent destruction wreaked in the war. While the school kids learn a poem about the inhumanity of the Bosch (translation: Krauts), a returning soldier shares his contrary wisdom: the enemy German soldiers were just like their enemy French, simple ordinary folk thrown into a conflict neither of their making nor of their will or understanding. But the deaths and dread and nightmares roll on. The film's noblest soldier is Francine, the orphan girl Hortense hires to help in the harvest but who works her way into a permanent position with the family. That is, until their son Georges and she fall in love, threatening Hortense's control. For being a responsible, even heroic guardian is not enough. What's crucial is the values being guarded. Despite her affection and respect for Francine, Hortense lies about her virtue to dissuade son Georges from marrying her. She comes from nobody, she explains, with whoredom in her blood. Later Hortense refuses to tell Georges Francine is carrying his child. Thus Hortense meets what she sees her responsibility to maintain the family honour - letting Francine carry the guilt that daughter Solange has provoked - and to consign George to marry his drab childhood friend Marguerite. At this point the film's domestic point unfolds into the larger theme of French values, even European, indeed the entire Western Civilization that both World Wars ostensibly defended. Killing and dying for one's values may be a fine value - but that depends on the values. And whether the values defended in war are sustained in peacetime. The heroes' martial valour is undercut by Hortense's inhumanity both to her son and to his lover. She betrays her dutiful servant out of class snobbery, an exalted vanity and her need to keep control over her family. When she glimpses her unacknowledged grandchild, Hortense briefly realizes the horrible costs of her misdeed, even to herself. But she makes no amends. It's too late or her strength has left her too weak to undo the damage she did the son she thought she was protecting and the woman who served her so faithfully.. There's a sting in the tail at the end of the narrative. The eldest son back from the war, the farm thriving and modernized thanks to the women's initiative, the men fall to arguing over the division of the estate. The war briefly unified the men that can't live in peace at home. The only harmony and cheer are provided by the triumphant and resourceful Francine. Raising her child on her own, she's now also a locally successful singer, still brightening her world. Poor Georges in the audience is still enchanted by her and will never know his loss. He returned wounded from the war but emotionally crippled by his mother's betrayal. He won the continental war but lost the domestic battle.

Reviewed by jabberwhack 9 / 10

Beautiful, subtle film about women's day to day during First World War

Xavier Beauvois just does the most beautiful films. As with Of Gods and Men, The Guardians is full of quiet dignity and humanity, and it gets the emotions just right. There are so many films about the battlefront, it's great to see one focussed on the scene back home and on women's work, their hopes, their endurance, their grief, and even their betrayals. The pace is slow, and follows the events of the narrative as much as the seasons and the labour they entail. Beauvois is someone who takes the time to show people who are not often seen on screen go about their everyday life, their toil. When do we get to see women shovelling dirt, feeding fodder to cattle, or doing the harvest? It's sometimes hard to believe this takes place between 1916-20 and the contrast with our post-post-modern world is all the more valuable. We're lucky that a director of such talent chooses topics like this for his work.

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