Bernard Émond is a unique filmmaker in Quebec. Whether we admire or reject. His cinema is made up of nuances, with an almost manic attention to detail. The director and screenwriter, an anthropologist by training, is also an ethnologist of the human heart.
For 30 years, his slow-paced films, with shots seemingly taken from Old Master canvases, reflect the dark side of the heart; his inclination to misfortune. Which comes from one thing, to quote Pascal, “not knowing how to rest in a room”. Bernard Émond is a chamber filmmaker.
While current cinema is fueled by blockbusters and superheroes, the director of La donation makes films against the grain. A Respectable Woman, her new feature – which is announced as her last – inspired by a short story by Pirandello, is a film that is good for the soul.
Trois-Rivières, early 1930s. Rose (Hélène Florent) has been separated from her husband for 11 years. At the request of the local priest (Paul Savoie, very fair), this single woman, heiress of a wealthy family, agrees to take him into her home, after the death of his second concubine. The husband, Paul-Émile (Martin Dubreuil), brings with him his three young daughters whom he had from his illegitimate union.
Émond’s adaptation stays true to Pirandellian psychology. The protagonists each have their own truth. The separated couple still love each other, but very badly. They are two solitudes that seek each other, without finding ready-made answers to their inner drama. “You have to know how to forgive,” said the priest to Rose, because forgiveness brings us inner peace.
Three quarters of the film takes place in winter and takes place inside Rose’s house, in a plush, dark and cozy setting. The story flows to the rhythm of the months, interspersed with images of snow and ice drifting on the water of the river. The St. Lawrence, the backbone of Quebec, is a character in Émond’s cinema.
The direction of actors is very precise. In Rose, Hélène Florent seems to wear a veil of sadness over her face throughout the story, except during brief moments of joy with the girls. The actress is remarkable. Her partner is also real and touching in the role of the dark and clumsy husband, but with a good background, as they say. Only the children’s game seemed artificial to us. And the conclusion of the drama, a little hasty.
Despite these drawbacks, this new opus from the 72-year-old director has beautiful and undeniable qualities.