The Guardians/Les Gardiennes
26 May: 7:30 pm - 10:00 pm£4 – £6
2017 – Certificate 15
– The Guardians/Les Gardiennes –
The Guardians is a French drama, set during the First World War, in which a woman hires a young orphan to help out on her family’s farm. In Xavier Beauvois’ fierce, compassionate drama, the first world war casts a terrible shadow over a farming community.
The gender divide of this movie, and its whole point, are clearer in the original French title: Les Gardiennes, the female guardians, the women who worked the land in France during the First World War.
France 1915. The impact of the First World War is being felt across Europe as conscription forces the men to leave their homes for the battlefield. Hortense (Nathalie Baye) realising she has to hold up her family’s farm with less than half the labour force hires a helping hand, Francine (Iris Bry). Meanwhile Hortense’s daughter Solange (played by Baye’s real daughter, Laura Smet) is tormented by the wait for her husband’s return from battle.
Featuring touching performances from French screen legend Baye and outstanding newcomer Bry alike, and cinematography that captures the bucolic life with painterly splendour, The Guardians shines a light on the untold lives, characters and details that helped shape the First World War/
“This is a true find, and a captivating addition to the filmography of the first world war” The Spectator.
In French with sub-titles.
Running Time 132 mins
Ratings Info 4 – 5 Star Cert 15
Director(s) Xavier Beauvoisel
Cast includes Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet, Iris Bry, Cyril Descours, Gilbert Bonneau, Olivier Rabourdin
Nominations & Awards 11 nominations including Cinematography, Screenplay, Best New Actress and Costume
This richly compassionate, fiercely acted and beautifully shot period drama is about the second conflict, the battle of wills on the home front, as its characters struggle to maintain a family farm in the Deux-Sèvres region of western France.
A way of life, with its Hardyesque seasonal rhythms of sowing and reaping, is minutely, sumptuously depicted. But all the time in the background – in the letters home, in the muttered hints of the grim-faced men on leave and their shellshocked dreams – is the horror of war. Those seasonal rhythms come to include regular visits from officials with telegrams.
The beauty and the pathos of the film are vivid in every frame.
Beauvois concludes the film with an affecting, melancholy song. It is the music of regret and acceptance.
The story of France’s land girls during World War I is told with patience and painterly finesse in this softly virtuosic period drama from Xavier Beauvois, based on a 1924 novel by Ernest Pérochon.
Beauvois’s vision of the period is totally convincing, and his depiction of hardscrabble farm life rings with a quiet vibrancy – a slow-burn story of tragedy and betrayal takes shape, but some of the best moments here are when the film just watches Hortense, Francine and Solange go about their work, and sequences in which charcoal is made in a mossy forest kiln and pats of golden butter are slapped into shape in the pantry look like magical rites.
But the film doesn’t go overboard on period detail. It feels so truthful thanks to its particular way of looking: cinematographer Caroline Champetier’s compositions look like canvasses by Daubigny, Corot and Millet, capturing the essence of each scene and setting so vividly, you can almost inhale it.
There is very little score here, though the great New Wave composer Michel Legrand has provided a handful of lilting, flute-led pastorales that accompany transitional moments in the plot………….. traditional folk songs are also sparingly but evocatively deployed.
Like a series of Monet paintings come to life, the historical drama The Guardians luxuriates in lush, widescreen images of the French countryside. World War I is raging elsewhere, but this segment of the country remains unspoiled and fertile
Part of the allure of The Guardians comes from the casting: The radiant, real-life mother and daughter Baye and Smet play mother and daughter Hortense and Solange.
The Guardians maintains an underlying focus on humanity, in all its complications during a time of great distress. You think people are deeply decent but then they completely botch the handling of something important. Everyone is damaged and the rules no longer apply. That messiness is interesting.
And Bry has a consistently beguiling screen presence. With expressive looks reminiscent of a silent film star, she has a clarity and a directness about her that are hugely appealing. You know her character will find her way in the world.
The Guardians is an unignorably beautiful film, bursting with Caroline Champetier’s painterly and serene compositions of the fields and forests soaking in mist or illuminated by golden early evening sunlight
Michele Legrand’s score appears on only a handful of occasions, bursts of music that underline a moment of expectation…………. Francine provides much of the film’s music herself, singing sweetly old-fashioned songs around the farm.
Although newcomer Bry is a captivating presence, doing an impressive job of carrying much of the film and its emotional weight, and Smet broods powerfully as the tormented Solange, this is unmistakably Baye’s film.
The Guardians is a rewarding and rich film, which offers a delicately considered and often troubling insight into the lives of those left behind by history: those who, in the priest’s words, “still drain the bitter cup of life” while others march to their death.
Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus
The Guardians proves that the oft-unravelled canvas of World War I still has fresh stories to tell — and adds another gorgeously filmed entry to Xavier Beauvois.
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