In the Shadow of Women (L’ombre des femmes) (2015)

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Or why sometimes it is better to cut and run. Pierre and Manon are married. They are documentarians who struggle to make ends meet. Pierre is silent and dour, Manon sparkles and pleases. Pierre meets a younger women, Elizabeth, and begins an affair.  One day Elizabeth spies Manon in the arms of another man and must decide if she should tell Pierre. 

This French film, screening as part of the Alliance Français French Film Festival, starts well in beautiful black and white. It is quiet, we see and understand without being told, although, like French films of the New Wave, there is authorial commentation, filling in the gaps. This narration has a certain self-consciousness but it does allow us to see behind the curtain, giving away the secret thoughts of the three leads, particularly the wounded ego of Pierre.

What emerges is a study of the contrariness of relationships. Pierre is unhappy but does not know how to voice this, Manon just wants to be seen, Elizabeth cannot understand why she is not worthy of more. All push the other away in their hurt and insecurity and, in so doing, guarantee their solitude. But perhaps solitude and following one’s own path – not a mother’s, father’s nor a husband’s – is not such a bad thing.

I didn’t love the ending and I am left wondering at the title. Is this the story of Pierre, who feels he is in ‘the shadow of women’? Does it signify that really it is the women who burn bright, leaving all else in their shadow? Somehow I feel that Manon’s biggest problem is not Pierre’s infidelity but that he is a dickhead.

Bechdel test – pass
3 stars

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