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Gilles’ Wife (2004) – DVD Review

Gilles' Wife DVD cover


Written by: Frédéric Fonteyne, Marion Hänsel, Philippe Blasband based on the novel by Madeleine Bourdouxhe
Directed by: Frédéric Fonteyne
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Clovis Cornillac, Laura Smet


  • Making Of featurette
  • Deleted Scenes with Director Commentary

Released by: Koch Lorber Films
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: Oui

My Advice: Rent It

Elisa (Devos) is living the working class dream in 1930s rural France. She has a good husband named Gilles (Cornillac) who works at the factory, lovely twin girls and a another baby on the way, and a nice house outside of town. But something, or someone, is going to disrupt this domestic bliss. Elisa senses that Gilles and her sister Victorine (Smet) are getting too close. She soon discovers that Gilles and Victorine are having a torrid affair. Elisa is devastated, but she loves Gilles and doesn’t want to love him. She is even there for Gilles when he is upset when Victorine ignores him. So is Elisa’s love stronger than her pain?

[ad#longpost]It’s as question no one in a relationship wants to think about. What do you do if your partner cheats? For most it’s easy: dump the motherfucker. But if you’ve invested time and emotion into the other person, do you just toss all that out the window without trying to salvage it? For the character of Elisa, this question is complicated by having several children with Gilles, the other woman being her sister, and being constricted by the mores and laws of the 1930s. Instead of what could have been a typical Lifetime Movie, director Fonteyne has created a film that is beautifully made and quite powerful.

One of the things that struck me was how quiet this film is. There is very little dialogue–no long discussions over their relationship. Everything is told with a glance or a turn of phrase. When Elisa or Gilles finally show a flash of anger or pain from this love triangle, it makes it all the more shocking. The quiet serves to keep trite language from ruining these moments but also shows Elisa’s desperate isolation. She obviously can’t go to Gilles or Victorine, nor her parents. And in her small town, anything she said would be town gossip in moments. Even when she travels to a neighboring town and confesses to the priest, she gets a rote absolution.

Fonteyene evokes the seasons and how they played into the story. The bleakness of winter reflect Elisa’s feelings and the glory of summer match Elisa’s passionate efforts to save her marriage. The film is shot with a lushness reserved for epic historical dramas involving grand palaces and royalty, not ordinary working class folk and their ordinary problems. But Fonteyene doesn’t sacrifice his actors for the sake of pretty scenery. Devos and Cornillac are amazing as the troubled couple. Devos especially radiated love and pain with just a look at her husband. She isn’t being noble, Devos conveys how Elisa tries to be for her husband because that is the only thing she knows. But you can also sense the struggle she is going through. It’s quite a remarkable performance.

Emmanuelle Devos Clovis and Cornillac Laura Smet in Gilles' Wife

There are a couple of nice extras on the DVD. The behind the scenes featurette isn’t your usual slick production where the director and actors gush about how great the movie is. Instead, director Fonteyene took some home made video and spliced it together, showing the production with an honesty missing from most of these type of featurettes. You see how they actually built the house where Elisa and Gilles lived for the filming and how they split filming to capture actual summer and winter to add more authenticity into the film. The other feature is some deleted scenes but Fonteyene gives commentary that explains why he cut them, showing how sometimes you have to cut some of your favorite scenes for the sake of the whole film. The whole DVD of Gilles’ Wife shows that you can take showing ordinary and make it beautiful and engrossing.

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