LE JUPON ROUGE (Geneviève Lefebvre, 1987)

Don’t be afraid. With women, everything is possible.” — Manuela to Claude, before they make love for the first time, which is also either’s first time making love to a woman

My sterile womb contains only darkness. — Holocaust survivor Bacha, who, past possibility, intuits that Claude and Manuela, who has been her aide and close friend for twenty years, are becoming lovers

It is a quiet, lovely, delicate mood-piece about shook souls in contemporary Paris. It is a film of sensibility—tone, that is, not action. It is about three women, at different stages of life, their interrelations and feelings. It is a film with alternate titles: Manuela’s Loves and The Red Petticoat. Two women, Geneviève Lefebvre and Nicole Berckmans, wrote it, and Lefebvre directed.
     Bacha (Alida Valli, claiming here her greatest role) is formerly of the Polish resistance; at 17, at Ravesbrück the Nazis broke the bones in her feet with a hammer, carved out bits of muscle, and made her sterile. Bacha has dedicated her postwar life to opposing torture and working for the release of political prisoners. “I thought I was strong,” she tells Manuela (Marie-Christine Barrault’s finest role as well), whose love affair with young Claude riles her. “I thought I had learned to cope. I didn’t realize my life centered on you. . . . Of all my real friends, you are the only one who didn’t suffer that hell. You kept it from returning.” “Only friendship remains,” Bacha concludes, “when you have lost everything.”
     Everyone has moral choices to make, even regarding issues (such as loyalty) involving people beyond those who plainly participate in particular situations. It takes so little to torture us.
     Also, Lefebvre’s underrated film is about the difference between being in love and falling in love.

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