Gilles’ Wife

large_fB2seAXewxUMEkBGrryh89SCVB8 Based on a short novel by French writer Madeleine Bourdouxhe, La Femme de Gilles, written in 1937, was made into a movie in 2005.  After watching this haunting tale of infidelity and patience, I’ve preordered the book – translated to English and available in November.  I need to read the lines carefully; I want to know what the author really intended.

The French movie has little dialogue, with subtitles in English, but the facial expressions carry the mood and the action.  The love triangle consists of Elisa, the steady and faithful wife who is pregnant with her third child when the story begins; Gilles, the hard-working husband who expects his dinner on the table when he returns from a day at the mines; and finally, Victorine, the young flighty and beautiful sister.

When Elisa discovers her husband is sleeping with her sister, she becomes his confidant and nurturer, even spying on her sister for him, as he struggles with his passion.  With stoic patience Elisa listens to his ranting about his obsession with her sister, while Elisa is folding diapers and cooking his meal. When she seeks help in the confessional, the priest has nothing to offer but a warning to stay true to her faith, and her sister blames Elisa for not holding on to her husband.  Throughout, Gilles plods along in his fervor – more like a little boy than a man.

The movie’s ending is a surprise, and I wondered if the director had changed it for effect or if the book was the same.  I wondered why Elisa tolerates the situation – love for her husband? lack of any other resources to feed her children?  shame? Clearly, more bubbles under the surface of her Madonna-like veneer.

Film critic Roger Ebert noted:

“I was fascinated by the face of Emmanuelle Devos {Elisa}, and her face is specifically why I recommend the movie. There are some people who keep their thoughts to themselves because they don’t have one to spare. Others who are filled with thoughts, but keep them as companions. Devos, as Gilles’ wife, is in the second category. She is too clever by half. What such people don’t realize is that being too clever by half is only being too clever by half enough.”

Have you seen the movie?  read the book? I would appreciate your thoughts on it, if you have.

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