The Woman Next Door


Reviewed by: Max Blinkhorn

The Woman Next Door
"A great way to get into your average Frenchman's domestic head but stand back and watch – don’t inhale the smoke from Les Gauloises!"

This is a film about ordinariness and how that unappreciated idyll can be destroyed by chance and true misfortune. Amongst many other things.

The film stars a youngish Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant, (her name, the source of a thousand English sniggers) who is stunningly beautiful in this 25-year-old film. How do the French make women like her? Depardieu’s character, Bernard, finds one day, that his ex-wife, Mathilde, played by Ardant, for whom he still has feelings, has moved into the house next door. Merde Alors! Neither informs their respective partners of the previous affair and the ensuing love-gone-bad farce is the vehicle for Truffaut to show the French a slice of what they’re really like and allow us to look on, amused and slightly bewildered.

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Mathilde - gorgeous in her “French Resistance” raincoat - swoons after kissing the handsome Depardieu in the supermarket car park. For her, the romance reignites. Her interest is not exactly returned by Depardieu who is in denial about the feelings in motion and she pines a little which gives her the hots even more. Almost voyeuristically, she watches the comings and goings of Bernard’s household with Truffaut’s camera looking over her shoulder and we are able to share her intensity. But it’s bad love that these two have – needful and almost parasitic. How can they overcome their inner demons and extricate themselves from the mess?

Shot in six weeks, around Grenoble, they say, one curious aspect of the film is the occupation of Depardieu’s character – he tests super tankers design in a huge pond, complete with wave simulator and lies on them, thinking of Fanny. Scenes in gardens remind cold British hearts why they dream of buying that second home in Provence.

Henri Garcin is steady and straight as Mathilde’s husband Philippe while Michele Baumgartner is waiflike and balanced as Depardieu’s unknowing wife, Arlette. This is rightly thought of as one of the best examples of French cinema. While Hollywood is entranced by pretty shiny things, Truffaut points out the human gold at the kitchen sink. Each scene is so gloriously filmed by William Lubtchansky and lovingly edited by Martine Barraqué, you can’t fail to miss how clunky other films are.

Made between two better films, The Last Metro and the original Breathless, The Woman Next Door was an old idea Truffaut had been sitting on for years and I think this shows – it just doesn’t hang together. Maybe he was looking for a vehicle through which to get his hands on Ardant (which he did!) and perhaps that’s why the film is flawed?

The music which creeps in at the emotional moments is intrusive and unnecessary. Ardant is a superb actress and shows her anguish well – we don't need a weeping cello to signal those crucial moments. Worse still, Truffaut contrives a situation where Ardant’s dress gets caught on something and, Sacre Bleu! It falls to ze floor! Revealing her gorgeous silk lingerie! This is the equivalent of seeing underneath the bonnet of a Bentley and completely gratuitous. Yes, Truffaut needed to arouse Depardieu with something juicy for the next plot stage, but honestly, it is just a bit too Benny Hill. Also, the subtitles could be better – quite a bit of shorthanding there.

These points aside, The Woman Next Door is a great way to get into your average Frenchman's domestic head but stand back and watch – don’t inhale the smoke from Les Gauloises! Keep it for a rainy Sunday when you’ve just got back from your French holiday and want to consume a fine soufflé of a film. Only quatre Etoiles pour moi, for the dress! Desollée, M. Truffaut.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2006
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Lives are shattered when a contented husband's former lover moves in next door.
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