I’d never heard of director Jean Grémillon (1898–1959), but thanks to Arrow Academy, I’m now well-schooled in one of his great films. While not flawless, The Love Of A Woman works just about perfectly if you’re a fan of the pot-boiling tear-jerker romance genre. Granted, it also works fantastically as an example of fine film work as Grémillon was a master behind the camera and there are some striking images here to behold.
When Dr. Marie Prieur (Micheline Presle) decides to take over the job from a well-aged doc at the end of his career on the small island of Ouessant, she’s met by wariness from the locals and made fun of by a part of a crew of men working on the island. After a practical joke by the men on their supervisor, André Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti) ends up in a fight where the doc has to show up to fix a broken nose, Lorenzi begins calling the doctor incessantly asking for a date. After some nudging by a never-married older schoolteacher (Gaby Morlay), The good doctor agrees to André’s request, but their date is ruined after a local child falls gravely ill.
After a few hours of hard work, Prieur saves the child’s life and as she leaves the small house, André is waiting for and they both confess their love for each other. The two begin a whirlwind romance, but things get complicated after André begs Marie to leave her job and marry him. Yep, he’s an ass, folks. Even worse, Marie nearly does just this, but the film throws in a few kickers I won’t spoil here that test Marie’s resolve. I will say that between the locals being so averse to a female doctor and André’s whining, poor Marie is stuck between a rock and a hard place because she really loves that jerk who can’t seem to listen as much as he talks. Does she stay on the island and wither away her life among people who don’t appreciate her (yet) or does she give it all up for a guy who gets all pouty and foolish because she’s not willing to run away with him and pop out babies like a busted gumball machine?
It’s actually not hard to figure out what happens in terms of a final decision, but Grémillon sure knows how to put on a show. Great use of lighting and shadows here and there’s a harrowing boat trip late in the film that’s followed by a surprisingly graphic for the era operation sequence that gives Marie a clear answer about what she needs to do with her life. The film telegraphs a few things, but André’s silly tantrums and Marie’s not quite willingness to dump her handsome loser outright for a few eyeball-rolling moments. Still, the director introduces a pretty young teacher very late in the film who plays a human red herring for a hot minute until she gets the last line in that closes the film as a pretty sensible and smart cookie.
Overall, the film is pretty good stuff as is the sole bonus feature, In Search of Jean Grémillon, a TV special from France circa 1969 (although it seems the 1975 copyright means this is a rebroadcast version). The director started in silents (a good deal of which are lost), then went into sound films with a few up and down years between successes. You can find a few of his other films such as Remorques and Le ciel est à vous elsewhere (I’ve read both are pretty great, so on the bucket list they go), but I’m gathering this one will also find an audience among new and old Grémillon aficianados.
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by the publisher