La veuve Couderc (1971)

August 25, 2017

For the Journeys in Classic Film 2017 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, I decided to write a bit about La veuve Courderc, a quiet French drama starring Alain Delon and TCM's star of the day Simone Signoret.

La veuve Courderc begins with a mustached Alain Delon wandering into town, just as Simone Signoret is attempting to carry her heavy egg incubator to her farmhouse down the road. Signoret is "La veuve" --or the widow-- of the title. She lives with her grumpy (and, if the subtitles on my copy are an accurate translation, abusive) father-in-law, and just across the river from her judgmental sister-in-law. When she takes on Delon's mysterious drifter as a hired hand on her farm, it stirs up trouble with the sister-in-law and her young attractive daughter, played by Ottavia Piccolo.

That might all seem like a pretty soapy plot but overall it's actually a very soft, slow-paced movie with nuanced, sensitive performances. Delon plays a very Delon-like character -- enigmatic, morally ambiguous, and quiet yet volatile. Even when he finally shares his secretive backstory you're still not entirely positive that he's telling the truth. And when the widow takes a liking to him, you're never quite sure if his reciprocated feelings are genuine.

While Delon is -- unsurprisingly -- my favorite part of the movie, Simone Signoret does most of the heavy lifting here. The events of the movie may be set into motion when Delon arrives in town, but his role is mostly that of an object of desire and an enigma that nobody can quite figure out. Signoret bears the brunt of the town gossip, and she endures the heartbreak when the drifter favors her young niece over her, even telling her to her face that he preferred the niece because of her youth. The film really tries to play up the age difference (in real life Signoret was 50 while Delon was 36) with Signoret's graying hair, matronly nightgowns, and world weary composure; juxtaposed against her mischievous, spirited niece exposing her chest to breastfeed her infant in front of an attentive Delon.

Signoret may be playing up the age with her appearance, but inwardly her performance is that of a lovestruck teenager. She is glowing and giddy when he pays her attention, but she is quick to turn to vindictive acts of jealousy or get snippy with him when she suspects he's playing around with her niece. She embodies the role so well, fluctuating between girlish emotions while still somehow maintaining that cool, unflappable Signoret veneer. It's kind of like she's playing the hardened city girl with a soft center, just transposed to a French countryside setting. It's brilliant.

Finally, let's circle back to that mustache and ask the question on everyone's mind: "Is that mustache really necessary?"

I don't think it's necessary to his face, but it's probably necessary to the movie. He shaves it off about halfway in, the timing coinciding with his piqued interest in the niece. I'm not exactly disturbed by its presence during the first 45 minutes but I'm always happy to see it go ;)

Unfortunately this movie only seems to be available in DVD boxsets, most of which are region 2. It's available in this Alain Delon boxset which is a little pricey but I highly recommend it if you're a fan of his work. It contains a few other movies that are difficult to find in America and it's region 1 so it will play in American DVD players!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember liking this one a lot back when I had that Alain Delon box set (which I foolishly sold at some point...), though I had forgotten many of the details. Thanks for writing about it!