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.
1915. Life at the Paridier farm has changed dramatically since the men of the family (Constant, Georges and Clovis) left home to go and fight on the front line. Hortense Sandrail, Henri and Constant's mother and Clovis' mother-in-law, has taken over courageously but, although helped by her daughter Solange, she finds it hard to get by with all the workload. When harvest time comes, she makes up her mind to hire a farmhand but she is too late and no man is available. The mayor then recommends her an orphan named Francine Riant, who could do. Hortense agrees and the choice soon appears a blessing, as the girl proves perfect: well-mannered and respectful, she is also a hard worker who does not balk at any task. Hortense, Solange and her form an effective trio, who make the most of the situation. One day, Georges comes back to the farm on leave and he falls in love with Francine.
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September 15, 2018 at 04:36 PM