Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Original title: L’une chante, l’autre pas
Venezuela/France/Belgium, 1977. Ciné Tamaris, INLC, Institut National de L’Audiovisuel, Paradise, Population, Societe Francaise de Production. Screenplay by Agnès Varda. Cinematography by Charles Van Damme. Music by François Wertheimer. Production Design by Franckie Diago. Costume Design by Franckie Diago. Film Editing by Joele Van Effenterre.
Teenager Pauline rejects her bourgeois family to help twenty-two year old Suzanne, mother of two and unhappily pregnant again, to obtain an abortion. Ten years later, Pauline goes by the appellation of Pomme and is a folk singer with a feminist band, while Suzanne manages a family planning clinic and is happily raising her kids alone. This arthouse-Beaches precursor shows these women living in parallel worlds while keeping in touch through letters that maintain their friendship for the few times they get to be together: Pomme gets married and lives in Tehran for a few months, Suzanne meets a married doctor and falls in love with him but needs to be more sensible than she was ten years later. In some ways, this film shows director Agnes Varda at her best, creating a strong political manifesto on abortion and female equality that never feels like a dry sermon, and featuring characters who are bright and amiable (even if Valérie Mairesse‘s performance as Pauline is more one-note than Thérèse Liotard as Suzanne). Varda’s feminism is always passionate even at its most enraged and, while Pomme’s trendy songs really risk condemnation as seventies kitsch, the director manages to put important, provocative themes into a light hearted film without trivializing them. It’s a shame that despite all this, the film is something of a slog to sit through; Varda’s usual skill for shaping an efficient and energetic narrative isn’t present here, one could easily shave a good twenty minutes and still have the story in its entirety.
The Criterion Collection: #978
Toronto International Film Festival: 1977