Made in 1953, The Love of a Woman was Jean Grémillon’s final film, and I have to admit that while I had heard his name before, I was unfamiliar with his work before I sat down to watch The Love of a Woman. I’ve gathered from a bit of research that he was a director who revelled in the melodrama of his films, and The Love of a Woman is no exception—the impact is not unlike the work of Douglas Sirk.
The film is about a strong, independent woman, Marie (Micheline Presle), who happens to be a doctor. Marie arrives on the island of Ushant, just off Brittany, to replace the island’s male doctor, who is retiring. She faces misogyny from the residents, but does meet André Lorenzi. André is a handsome engineer, and at first things are looking good. Naturally, the story soon turns sour, in pure melodramatic fashion.
It’s a gorgeous film: Grémillon cut his teeth during the silent days, and worked through the French poetic realist period. This film just about falls into that category, but is slightly less stylised and more emotional. The lead performance by Presle is strong. She is an actress who would later work with a whole host of directors around the world, and she is still living at the ripe old age of 94.
The Love of a Woman portrays a new kind of independent woman in France and the challenges she faced in a deeply conservative society. Women only got the right to vote there in the 1940s, and by the end of the decade in 1949 Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex caused a massive stir by pointing out the social and personal costs of sexism.
Hopefully this release means more of Grémillon’s work will be released, especially the films he made during the German occupation of France. There are glimpses shown in the disc’s sole special feature, a lengthy documentary on his work.