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DVD/Blu-ray: The Love of a Woman | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The Love of a Woman

DVD/Blu-ray: The Love of a Woman

A revelatory French feminist melodrama about a doctor forced to choose between her man and her vocation

Making hay: Massimo Girotti and Micheline Presle in 'The Love of a Woman'Arrow Academy

In Jean Grémillon's final fiction film The Love of a Woman, Marie Prieur (Micheline Presle) arrives on the Breton island of Ushant to replace the tiny settlement's aging Dr Morel (Robert Naly). While showing Marie her new digs and surgery, Mme Morel (Madeleine Geoffroy) compliments the lady doctor on her youth. Marie sighingly replies that she is 28. Quel horreur!

Ninety-five now, Presle was 31 when the film was released in France in 1953. It is no discourtesy to say she looked closer to 35 – Marie is an attractive, dignified woman who performs her work with a quietness and authority that quickly earns her the locals' respect. Still mourning a broken love affair with a fellow former medical student, Marie isn't consciously looking for a suitor, but her biological clock is ticking. She is soon being courted aggressively by André Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti), a handsome engineer whose construction firm is completing its work on Ushant and will shortly move on.

DVD/Blu-ray: The Love of a WomanThe two fall in love and André proposes to Marie. Being a French-Italian macho man, he naturally expects her to give up her career. Looking after him, he states, should bring her ample contentment.

Marie's need to decide her future on the eve of André's departure coincides with her being ferried on a lifeboat during a storm to attend to a lighthouse-keeper whose hernia is endangering his life. Gremillon depicts the operation as graphically as a mainstream melodrama could in 1953 – Marie unflinchingly slicing open the patient's lower belly.

Why should a woman put public duty over her personal happiness if it involves such grisly work? Precisely because she knows that obeying her ego will leave her with a sense of failure and self-disgust. A scene of her drinking with the lifeboat boys after they've brought her back to the island – much to the sulky André's chagrin – emphasises how thrilled she is to have done her duty well. It also reveals Grémillon's egalitarianism.

The films in the 2012 Criterion Collection set devoted to Grémillon's Occupation-era work – Remorques, Lumiére d'été, and Le ciel est à vous – made it clear he was a master. More so than his contemporaries Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier, and Marcel Carné, he was also a forthright feminist filmmaker. Though Le ciel est à vous features a happily married female aviator, The Love of a Woman is the Grémillon film that best champions a woman's right to determine her course. While it's obvious to modern viewers what Marie must decide, it was less so in the early 1950s. Hence, the painful struggle at the film's heart.

Gremillon's greatness and his uncompromising personality are affirmed in the main supplement on Arrow Academy's dual format The Love of a Woman disc: a 1975 documentary featuring the considered testimony of his peer René Clair, actors Presle and Pierre Brasseur, and archivist Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française, among others. Save for the doc's lack of identifying titles, it's a terrific addition to this first-rate release.


Why should a woman put public duty over her personal happiness if it involves such grisly work?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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