La Bonne Épouse (the international title is How to Be a Good Wife) is a 2020 French film written and directed by Martin Provost. It was the last film I saw in theaters before they had to close (again) due to the third wave of Covid-19 in Spain, but other than that I don’t think I will keep a particularly vivid memory of this film.
Here’s the plot in two words: France, 1967. The sexual and cultural revolution of May 1968 is approaching and affects the small housekeeping school (I don’t know how else to translate école ménagère) directed by Paulette Van Der Beck (Juliette Binoche), Sister Marie Thérèse (Noémie Lvovsky) and Gilberte (Yolanda Moreau), sister of Paulette’s husband (François Berléand).
What about this film? I think that the script is terrible, as the movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to achieve or say. At the beginning, it seems a more or less serious movie about girls rebelling against the old-style sexist education imparted in the housekeeping school. The main characters seem to be the uninhibited Fuchs (Marie Zabukovec), the lesbian Des-deux-Ponts (Annamaria Vartolomei), and the clumsy Ziegler (Lily Taieb).
But then this path is abandoned and Paulette becomes the clear protagonist with the sudden change of her personality due, perhaps, to her meeting with her true great love Grunvald (Eduard Baer). Binoche’s character’s arc is surprising, and the film doesn’t do much to either explain it or help the viewer to accept it.
Finally, and probably due to a total absence of ideas on how to finish the story, or the stories, the movie becomes a musical in which no character makes any sense anymore. Even the nun becomes the bearer of feminist and progressive values!
All these ideas are mixed at random and we the viewers must absorb them by watching a two hours-long film that never finds an actual tone: sometimes it’s a comedy (not a funny one; Gilberte’s character is particularly cringeworthy), sometimes it’s a drama (think of Grunvald saying that he prefers to die rather than to live without his loved one), sometimes it’s a coming of age story, sometimes it has a political message (even though it’s delivered fifty years late), sometimes it’s a historical reconstruction of the 1960s…
In short, this is a mess. The comic scenes are really bad, especially those of the television reportage that are too long and have a modern feeling that’s completely out of context. Finally, the over-the-top acting of most of the actors doesn’t help to take seriously even the parts of the film that probably should be taken seriously.
To conclude, in my opinion this is a huge failure. And I can’t express in simple words how horrendous the ending is. I could hardly believe it. Well, at least Juliette Binoche is still a beautiful woman, and the strudel recipe seemed a good one. Ciao!