Jean Grémillon / France / 1953 / 104mins
Available on Dual-Format Blu-ray/ DVD from Mon 21 Aug 2017
Micheline Presle is “doctoress” Marie Prieur who has come to an island parish in Brittany to take over from her retiring predecessor. She begins an affair with André (Massimo Girotti), the visiting engineer of a building project and she’s told in no uncertain terms by the schoolteacher (Gaby Morlay) that she is making a fool of herself and her position. Already the new “lady doctor” has raised eyebrows (and lascivious leers) from the locals. Marie’s teacher confidante knows the importance of a career which has given her “more than any man ever could”. This tension for women in the postwar period was reflected in many movies. Here the sad story is emotional – even romantic – but never melodramatic. The square-jawed engineer is a real catch but he can’t see a way for them to be together if she stays a country doctor. For her part Marie wants a home but not a prison. Will she end up like one of the beautiful but dead and trapped butterflies under glass in the picture frame in her digs?
When there is a crisis during a storm Marie has to go to attend an ill lighthouse-keeper. When she returns to the pub with the rain-lashed lifeboat men she is truly fulfilled and alive. Will André stifle this part of her? If he truly loved her he would let her be.
The film bears witness to Grémillon’s background as a documentary filmmaker and offers a lyrical sense of place and although the mood can be stifling at times, from the moment Marie gets off the boat there is a sense of island life that many people relish and others find claustrophobic and unbearable.