Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
First World War / World War 1
war in the Bible
What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer
What is DEATH? and WHY does it exist? Answer in the Bible
What is the FINAL JUDGMENT? and WHAT do you need to know about it? Answer
What is ETERNAL LIFE? Answer
What is ETERNAL DEATH? Answer
What is SEXUAL IMMORALITY? Answer
farming / Agriculture in biblical times
mother daughter relationships
Nathalie Baye … Hortense Sandrail
Laura Smet … Solange
Iris Bry … Francine Riant
Cyril Descours … Georges Sandrail
Gilbert Bonneau … Henri Sandrail
Olivier Rabourdin … Clovis
Nicolas Giraud … Constant Sandrail
Mathilde Viseux (Mathilde Viseux-Ely) … Marguerite Sandrail
Xavier Maly … Edgar
Marie-Julie Maille … La Monette
Madeleine Beauvois … Jeanne, la fille de la Monette
See all »
|Director:||Xavier Beauvois—“Of Gods and Men” (2010)|
|Producer:||Les Films du Worso [France]
France 3 Cinéma [France]
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|Distributor:||Music Box Films|
French director Xavier Beauvios has spent the last two years making his latest film, “The Guardians.” The delicacy and precision that he, his co-writers, Frederique Moreau and Marie-Julie Maille, and the cinematographer, Caroline Champetier, put into making the film have paid off. This is as close to perfect as a movie can be. It brings to mind not only Beauvois’ other work, especially his splendid “Of Gods and Men” released in 2010, but also the classic work of another sublime French filmmaker, Robert Bresson, who worked mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, and sometimes the pastoral paintings of Jean-Francois Millet, and even Vincent Van Gogh in his early years.
Beauvios constructs the story in chapter form with segments prefaced by each of the years that comprised the First World War, as well as some of the years that followed the conflict. The course of events is, at first, almost painstakingly slow. I sometimes felt as though I was actually living through 1914 and 1915, but by the movie’s end, I found myself aching for more, and wondering how two hours could have gone by so quickly. The portrayal of a world that moves forward as much as it stands still reveals a lot about how we live life and how we perceive it. Progress refines traditions, but it also clashes with what we grow comfortable with, and lazy about.
The action revolves around the daily routines of a farm in rural France. While the men fight on distant battlefields, the women maintain the farm and work the fields. The women’s task is no easy one. The film reveals the backbreaking nature of plowing grounds with a horse drawn carriage, as well as cutting wheat by hand with a scythe and bailing it together with twine. And that’s just a fraction of the daily chores. My joints ached just watching them work, but Beauvios does not succumb to drudgery or resentment in his depiction of labor. As he did in “Of Gods and Men,” he portrays work as an honorable and noble endeavor. The women’s toil has a devotional and repetitive intensity that is solemn, almost prayer-like.
Hortense Sandrall (the always remarkable Nathalie Baye) is the family matron who manages the farm and does a lot of the work herself. Short of help, and unable to hire extra hands because most young men, including her two sons and her son-in—law, are off to war, she hires a young orphan, Francine (Iris Bryl in a breathtaking debut performance) to assist with the chores. Francine’s shyness and innate goodness—the first thing she unpacks when she moves into her quarters is a cross which she hangs above her bed—are endearing, but they conceal a steely resolve and a firm dedication to purpose. Her pale complexion and her pulled back red hair imply innocence, but she is hardly naive. She is intuitive and smart enough to understand her small world, and ultimately to take possession of it.
The family drama that unfolds is replete with detail and nuance. I won’t give away those details except to say that a cruel betrayal and a grave injustice occur within the confines of the Sandrall farm. The scale of ensuing conflict may not equal that of the Great War that shapes much of the family’s present and future, but its effects are just as profound. What happens to Francine at the hands of her employers, and would-be family, is as unkind, unfair and unrelenting as the larger world struggle. In this small outpost, far from the front lines, we see how battles can be as vicious in a cottage kitchen as they are in a Verdun trench.
Despite the setbacks and tragedies that befall the characters, the film is an optimistic one. I had some reservations about Francine’s loss of innocence, her pregnancy by a man who abandons her, and what seemed to be a future of hardship and futility. However, what I expected to result from a given situation is rarely what actually happened. There are countless surprises in the film, many of which disappoint at first, but upon reflection, provide a glimmer of hope and a sense of understanding. Ultimately, faith, justice, and redemption prevail, in worlds that seem to no longer have room for them.
'The Guardians” is a splendid film, full of poetry and visual beauty. It reveals what is best and what is worst in all of us. With 2018 being the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, I was hoping to see more dramatizations of that part of our history, and I would be disappointed if it were not for “The Guardians,” as well as for another French film from 2017 by Francois Ozon called “Frantz.” Both capture the sense of the time they depict, and, more importantly, the sense of our own times.
“The Guardians” does contain some objectionable content. Francine has an extramarital affair with Hortense’s son. I won’t tell you where it leads, but the results, though disappointing, are solidly believable. I regret to say that the dialog’s only objectionable language is spoken in English by American soldiers who have cameo roles. The rest of the film is in French, with English subtitles. Francine has one nude scene, but it is from the back in the bath, and, like the rest of the film, it has the delicate quality of classic French painting, evoking the lovely but poignant nudes of Ingres and Degas. Beauvios borrows a lot, but that’s hardly a flaw, since he gives back so much more.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.