I'm beginning to wonder just how many novels and movies have been created with the setting of WWII. That's not a bad thing since I invariably do get drawn to that time period. This one, Pour une femme, is a quiet, unhurried little slice of three lives crisscrossed by love, betrayal, and the all-too-large shadow of the war itself.
Lena- mother of Annie and Tania, ex-wife of Michel- has just died and the two daughters are settling her belongings. Here is when Annie, a writer, discovers another side of their mother's life...although I wasn't clear on whether it was already a kind of open family secret. Still, Annie begins imagining and writing this story of her parents and Jean, her father's brother.
Lena and Michel meet at a camp for Jewish prisoners at the end of WWII. He pretends to be engaged to her and thus, they are released; but he has already fallen for her. Indeed he remains in love with her for the rest of his days. She on the other hand is deeply grateful and affectionate; is a good mother and housekeeper, but falls deeply in love with his newly-arrived brother, Jean.
Now this brother is mysterious, he was previously presumed dead and there are some murky angles to his Soviet past. (The brothers are originally from the USSR). He moves in with Lena and Michel, and their doomed attraction begins over an amusing scene involving a gefilte fish that first gets put into a semi-filled bathtub but meets its end by slipping out of Jean's hands and flying out into the street. It's amusing not for the poor fish's fate but because of the terribly infectious giggles the two culprits burst out into later, at a fish-free lunch table in front of their guest.
Thus do charming performances hold up this rather serious story. Take the wife of Michel's Communist Party boss, Madeleine. She's having an affair with another dreamy younger chap (I'm tempted to say "these French!") and soon becomes thick friends with Lena. (In fact there was a film made entirely on these two characters in 1983 called Entre Nous which I now want to see.) Then there's Michel's assistant at his men's tailor shop, Georges, mostly wordless but deeply endearing. And of course the entire film is beautiful with the backdrop of urban France and the three young leads being so charismatic - Jean in particular is quite the dish that most women would immediately fall for.
The main question remains unresolved at the end of the film. One doesn't really expect such neat bow-tied endings in a French film, I have come to discover. The title however, does tie in nicely, and brings about the most philosophical lines in the story along with old photographs of the erstwhile couple.
Overall rating: 6.5
Director: Diane Kurys