Clumsily translated from the French title Une Vie, this is Stephane Brize’s adaptation of a Maupassant novel.
It looks nothing like the Maupassant I love. His Normandy-set tales always have brisk economy and poignant, stinging irony. His characters are formed by the details of life around them and they take on a majesty or tragedy through their reaction to what life throws at them.
Brize instead hones in on the noblewoman Jeanne (Judith Chemla) who marries badly and loses all her family money on a wayward son. With its sly editing of flash backs and forth, it’s a pretentious slog, devoid of Maupassant’s delicious observations. His stories are focused, yes, but always feel part of wider tableau – Brize’s denies us the great author’s spark to show off his own cineaste vision, about which I couldn’t care a jot. There’s no heart for the characters here, just style, and a style the director seems intent on forcing upon us, and forcing on material that doesn’t demand it.
The only time I felt the film got the tone right was when Jeanne faces the local notary who briskly assess her parlous financial situation. That, at least, was perfect Maupassant.