What I’ve Been Watching: Story of Women (1988).
Who’s Responsible: Claude Chabrol (writer-director), Colo Tavernier (co-writer), Isabelle Huppert, François Cluzet, and Nils Tavernier (stars).
Why I Watched It: Chabrol Memorial Viewing.
Seen It Before? No.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 4.
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 5.
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 5.
And? As a Francophile (and one-quarter French to boot), I am woefully ignorant of the work of Chabrol, the New Wave pioneer sometimes called the “French Hitchcock,” and when he died last year, I was shocked to discover that I appeared to have seen only one of his films, The Flower of Evil. So it was with a sense of obligation that I embarked upon this one, in spite of my longstanding loathing for Huppert, and knowing virtually nothing about the plotline. It turns out to be based on the life of abortionist Marie-Louise Giraud, who went to the guillotine in occupied France during World War II, the exact setting of a nonfiction book that I am proofreading for a cousin of mine (alas, she is not mentioned).
Our friends at Wikipedia say that Chabrol had “an approach characterized by a distanced objectivity,” and with no idea where the story was headed, I wasn’t getting a lot of clues as to his attitude toward his subject, although I did try to compensate for my anti-Huppert bias. Marie Latour, a housewife of limited means and an aspiring chanteuse, is raising her son, Pierrot (Guillaume and Nicholas Foutrier), and his little sister, Mouche (Lolita Chammah and Aurore Gauvin), in a small apartment. She starts a lucrative business by providing soapy-water-douche abortions to those impregnated by Germans and/or while their husbands are away, then begins renting out the bedrooms to hookers during the day.
In the midst of all this, her own husband, Paul (Cluzet), returns home from some form of German camp (whether POW or forced-labor, I was unclear), and as my pal Tom would say, she gives him the stink-eye from Day One. Okay, Paul is no Alain Delon, and he’s a bit of a dull thud, but he is her spouse, and the father of their children, and has obviously been through hell, so perhaps she could cut this guy some slack. You can guess that she won’t let him lay a finger on her, although not because the horrors of war have squelched her libido, since she soon finds herself a slick lover (Tavernier), so it’s perhaps no surprise when her husband, torn up with frustration and humiliation, drops a dime with an anonymous letter.
Now, I’m proudly pro-choice (if not pro-abortion), and I understand that Marie’s clientele is in a particularly ticklish situation, yet it seems odd to me that as a mother, she displays no qualms whatsoever, especially after one client dies under circumstances in which her culpability was, at least to me, ambiguous at best. And while she doesn’t abuse the kids, she is raising them in an abortion clinic/mini-brothel, with keyholes through which young Pierrot witnesses inappropriate things. So while Marie’s punishment doesn’t appear to fit the crimes (there is no indication that the authorities knew of the deceased client), she is hardly an innocent victim, but I leave the final verdict to your own distanced objectivity.