Transcending Tradition in 60s France
How to Be a Good Wife (La bonne épouse)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Year Released: 2020/2023
Runtime: 1h 48m
Director(s): Martin Provost
Writer(s): Martin Provost, Séverine Werba
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Yolande Moreau, Noémie Lvovsky, Edouard Baer, François Berléand
Language: French w/English subtitles
Where To Watch: US release TBA
RAVING REVIEW: Martin Provost’s latest offering, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE, takes a unique look at the social norms and traditional gender roles of 1960s France. The film transports audiences to the Alsace-Moselle region of France in 1967. It follows the story of Madame Paulette Van der Beck, played by the incomparable Juliette Binoche, who must step up to run her late husband's school. The film is set against the backdrop of the nationwide student protests of May 1968, which would change the country forever.
With the support of a team of nuns, Paulette tries to tackle this impossible task as the film sets the stage for a roller-coaster of problems as traditional values to collide with the progressive ideas of the time. The film opens with Paulette lecturing her students about the basics of being “a good wife.” the humor in the movie is a hit-or-miss mix, with some moments being iconic and others missing the mark. Binoche shines in her role as the "good wife," whose exterior begins to crack as she is exposed to the temptations and desires of her free-spirited students.
Binoche delivers a powerful and emotional performance as she brings to life Paulette's struggle to reconcile her traditional role with her newfound world. Paulette's life takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of an old acquaintance, and the film shifts tones (this won’t be the last time) as she tries to balance the reappearance of her friend with her duties at the school. The supporting cast, particularly the young actors, adds depth to the film's coming-of-age narrative and parallels Paulette's journey of self-discovery. I was particularly impressed with how natural, so many of the young cast felt.
In conclusion, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE is a comedic film that offers a thought-provoking commentary on France in the 60s and the roles that women were expected to play. The film's end will either be a hit or a total miss for some viewers, intended to shock and take the viewer out of the path the film had been going down.
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[photo courtesy of DISTRIB FILMS/ICARUS FILMS]