Popular French director Martin Provost is back with his first film in three years, and while it’s not a rousing return, La Bonne Epouse does offer some lovely charms.
The film revolves around 1960’s society, and women’s role in it as caretakers of men. They aren’t free to live their own lives or have their own dreams, and so we’re taken to a housekeeping school for young girls.
Hideously outdated, with the help of a nun and her sister-in-law, Paulette runs the school under the watchful eye of her husband Robert.
The girls are taught their desires and wishes in life should be to make their future husbands happy, and they are trained in accordance with seven pillars that focus on ‘how to be a good wife’, the English translation of the film’s French title.
But Paulette — played wonderfully by Juliette Binoche — comes to some unexpected revelations after her husband passes and she realizes the state he’s left the financials of the school in. Ironic, because she was never allowed to look at the books, with the understanding it was ‘man’s work’ to deal with expenses and bills.
She, sister Gilberte and nun Marie-Therese must find a way to continue teaching the school of girls, even as their faith in the traditional system begins to falter.
Binoche is the living, breathing reason to watch this movie. Her performance is transcendent, and she’s good as ever. The supporting performances, too, are lively.
But what La Bonne Epouse suffers from is a plot that transitions from tradition to enlightenment in the run of 20 minutes. I didn’t necessarily believe that the minds of these women could be changed so quickly. After all, they’ve lived their whole lives with one objective: Serving a man.
It’s necessary and totally unsurprising that these outdated notions have to change for La Bonne Epouse to work, but the changes in the characters aren’t brought upon the audience honestly. There isn’t any internal strife or struggle, and though Binoche clearly sells herself, it’s hard to love a movie for Binoche alone.
Binoche enriches How To Be A Good Wife, with a supporting cast that absolutely emboldens and shakes up what’s on screen. I only with the screenplay might have supported the elegance on-screen with some more tact and bravura.