You Are Now A Woman And An Attractive One: Les Bonnes Femmes (1960)

I will fully admit that when I began this planned month of women related films, I did not expect to find myself focusing on anything centered directly within The French New Wave, considering its problematic relationship with women, however, at the same time, I had yet to really engage with the veritable third man of the movement, Claude Chabrol, aside from his various stints as cinematographer for other directors.  I am certainly glad, however, that I decided to pick this film to view, because not only does it possess all of the cinematic elegance and hip charm of a piece of cinema from the era, it also happens to do an excellent job of considering issues of feminine and masculine divides within the Parisian youthful society of the early sixties, not to mention fully reminding viewers of how troublesome male privilege was in their ability to move both vertically and horizontally within an assumedly expanding and progressing social landscape.  It is a film that is seemingly episodic, yet focusing on one character specifically it allows for a narrative to center on the evolving issues for a woman navigating the world in which she is incessantly and problematically objectified, even by those she assumes to be actively aiding her freedom.  I was initially dismissive of a handful of the visual metaphors incorporated within the films as I thought them to be a bit on the nose, yet when I reminded myself that the moments were mostly shot in a improvisation and on the set manner, not to mention the fact that it was created some fifty years ago, made me appreciate their seeming obviousness as absolutely brilliant.  Often with some of the earlier films in the New Wave, one finds a pause for concern when at least one of the elements is lacking, in most cases it was the presence of amateur actors, attempting to deliver deeply introspective and profoundly philosophical statements.  In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes everything merges together brilliantly and the film is impossible to turn away from, proving to be sexy, evocative and evidence of everything one should love and embrace about one of cinema's most important historical movements.

Les Bonnes Femmes, as a title suffers from a problematic series of translations, some suggesting it to be Good Time Girls, while others simply consider it to be Good Girls, neither appropriately grasping the film, which does, at the very least focus on girls who work in a shop, more importantly considering their experiences as they move through the culture of 1960's Paris.  One girl, in particular, Jane (Bernadette LaFont) finds herself particularly tied to the culture, considering that every man she encounters seem completely infatuated with her, whether it be two awkward, yet persistent, old men, or a shop owner whose economic position of power affords him a belief that he can make uncomfortable sexual advances on his employees, particularly Jane, who he believes to be exceptionally good looking.  Jane seems rather capable of navigating between these varied, yet troublesome individuals, however, when she realizes that she is being stalked by a mustached man her senses on the situations changes considerably, moving from shock at its occurrence to a curiosity and eventual desire for his presence.  After several less than stellar engagements with her friends, ending with a mildly violent altercation with some men she met earlier at an indoor pool, Jane's mustached pursuer finally makes his presence known, much to Jane's elation.  The two end up getting food together the following day and Jane completely falls for the charms of the man, particularly his minor magic tricks.  The man is reluctant to confess similar feeling towards Jane and eventually persuades her to take a hike with him on a rural area outside of Paris, during this trip he chokes her to death and leaves in a hurry.  The closing scenes move to what appears to be Jane at a dance hall as she stars vacantly into the glimmering lights of a disco ball, perhaps never experiencing any of the turmoil mentioned in the sentences above, but just imagining it all occurring.

Regardless of whether or not the film was an internalized experience is irrelevant to how I see the film critically, especially since Chabrol seems particularly concerned with depicting the very real oppressions faced by women, particularly young women of this era in France.  Firstly, Les Bonnes Femmes makes it very clear that the masculine problematically objectifies the feminine and is allowed to do so within the public setting, based solely on the assumption that these women chose to expose themselves to such situations, very little is made about the degrading and disrespectful elements to such actions narratively, but, undoubtedly, intentional on the part of Chabrol, who even shows that these women can not avoid being chastised within their work settings, a fact, that is extended even when considering that their jobs are predicated on their attractiveness.  A dismissive viewer might imagine that the events depicted are intended to be a bit of fun and games, however, the unbearably long scene of Jane being pushed underwater by two aging men, reminds viewers that these earnest games can become violently real and turn dark in only seconds, especially since it is made rather clear that were Jane to be dunked underwater one or two more times, without being saved by her admirer, would have likely resulted in her death.  Of course, very little needs to be said about the death of Jane, its violent masculine act is critically somewhat straightforward, only made problematic by the following suggestion that it may have been a dream sequence.  However, the notion that Jane is so disillusioned and troubled by her present situation that she seeks to find a means to end herself in the imaginative speaks to issues that were and would continue to be problems for women in the sixties an onward.

Key Scene:  For being  a shot on location element, the zoo scene is rather exceptional.

This is a Watch Instantly option, but after watching it I think the crispness of a DVD, may well be the better alternative.

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