Downhill

One of my big disappointments with the Sundance Film Festival was that I didn’t get to see Downhill with Julia Loius-Dreyfus and Will Farrell. I tried to get tickets every time it played but never was able to.

I finally saw the film on DVD and was quite disappointed. In spite of four star actors, It isn’t half as interesting Force Majuer, the Swedish film that Downhill is based on. While Downhill has a few changes so much of it follows the path of the original. The opening scenes, the eerie music, most of the plot are the same, but not carried off as well.

Downhill and Force Majuere show what happens to a married couple on a ski holiday with their two children when while eating lunch on a chalet deck, an avalanche erupts and heads towards the restaurant. Rather than protecting his family, Will Ferrell’s character Peter grabs his phone and runs to save his own hide. Luckily, the avalanche falls short of actually hitting the restaurant, but it is a close call. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie is completely shocked that her husband left the family to fend for themselves.

While the family had some minor fissures before, now Billie and Pete are at different poles. Billie waits for Pete to make a profound apology, but none comes. I guess he’s hoping that time will heal her wound. Fat chance. Billie finally erupts when she finds Pete lied about how Zach Pete’s younger colleague shows up at the same resort with his footloose and fancy free, hashtag loving girlfriend. Billie is furious to learn that Pete lied. It was his idea that Zach turn up. A huge argument ensues, but doesn’t help matters as Pete still asserts that Billie’s wrong about the avalanche.

Like the Swedish film, Downhill’s Billie’s distrust and disrespect for Pete snowballs. Some secondary characters appear as goofy, comic relief, but they aren’t that funny or well drawn. The two sons have little personality and spend much of their time watching movies while the parents go out for dinner and argue. These children were pawns in a weak story. I’d hoped for a lot more. I did enjoy the original and do like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but can’t recommend Downhill.

Poem of the Week

Home Burial

By Robert Frost

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.’
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see,’
Mounting until she cowered under him.
‘I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.’
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, ‘Oh,’ and again, ‘Oh.’

‘What is it—what?’ she said.

‘Just that I see.’

‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’

‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound—’

‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.

She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
‘Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’

‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’

‘Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.’
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
‘There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.’

‘You don’t know how to ask it.’

‘Help me, then.’

Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.

‘My words are nearly always an offense.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied—’

‘There you go sneering now!’

‘I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’

‘You can’t because you don’t know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’

‘I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’

‘I can repeat the very words you were saying:
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.”
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor?
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’

‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!’

‘You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you—’

‘If—you—do!’ She was opening the door wider.
‘Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—’

The Small Bachelor

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While P.G. Wodehouse’s The Small Bachelor doesn’t feature Jeeves or Bertie Wooster, it contains the main features readers enjoy in his writing — charming wit and wordplay, a supercilious butler, a bumbling young man, a bit of romance and a bothersome aunt-like character.

The story starts:

On the roof of the Sheridan Apartment House, near Washington Square, New York, is a “small bachelor apartment, penthouse style”, and the small bachelor who owns it is amateur artist George Finch, who is rich due to an inheritance. He falls in love with Molly Waddington at first sight, but is too shy to approach her until he retrieves her dog. George’s authoritative friend J. Hamilton Beamish, author of self-help books, is helping mild-mannered policeman Garroway become a poet. Garroway recognizes George’s valet, Frederick Mullett, an ex-convict who served time for burglary, though Mullett is now reformed. Mullett is engaged to former pickpocket Fanny Welch, who is somewhat less reformed.

George is invited into Molly’s home by her father, Sigsbee H. Waddington; Mr. Waddington, who has been influenced by Western films and novels, longs to go out West and takes a liking to George, since George is from East Gilead, Idaho. Though once wealthy, Mr. Waddington cannot afford to go out West because he is now financially dependent on his rich wife, Molly’s step-mother, socially ambitious Mrs. Waddington. She dislikes George, believing his morals are suspect because he lives in an unconventional artist neighborhood, and wants Molly to marry the tall and handsome Lord Hunstanton. However, Molly finds Lord Hunstanton stiff and loves George. Hamilton Beamish gets help for George from Madame Eulalie, Mrs. Waddington’s palmist and fortune teller, who tells Mrs. Waddington that disaster will strike if Molly marries Hunstanton. Beamish also falls in love with Madame Eulalie. Molly gets engaged to George, though Mrs. Waddington still dislikes him.

The Small Bachelor Plot. Wikipedia.org Retrieved on February 23, 2020.

Of course, more hijinks ensue in this fast-paced story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version narrated by my favorite Jonathon Cecil, who crafts the best characters with his voices.

The story was a joy to listen to and made me laugh out loud. Wodehouse delivers everything I’ve come to expect in terms of a fun story.

Force Majuer

On a family ski vacation in the Swiss Alps, Ebbe, Tomas and their two children Harry and Vera. They’re a young, attractive family with what people’d expect is a wonderful family. As they’re eating lunch after a morning of skiing. As they take in the view, an avalanche, a controlled avalanche moves down the mountain. Soon the avalanche doesn’t look so controlled and viewers panic. While Harry and Vera scream for their parents, Ebbe protects them while Tomas grabs his phone and seeks to save his own skin. All this is captured on video.

The avalanche doesn’t hit the deck. No one’s really hurt — except Ebbe’s trust in Tomas and their marriage.

The rest of the film explores Ebbe’s new distrust of Tomas and his coping with crumbling self-esteem. Every time they share a meal with another couple Ebbe must retell the story and each time Tomas comes out looking like a horrible man.

The film looks at what it means to be a real husband and father and how distrust cuts to the quick. It’s a fascinating exploration of marriage and masculinity. Can this marriage be saved?

I found the film absorbing and didn’t know what to expect. I’m not sure what I think of the end, though I would call it a satisfying conclusion. My only criticism of this quiet, intense film is that the children were so on the sidelines. Perhaps they just are in Swedish families, but while Harry did have moments of realism, Both children’s characters could be more developed.

Remorques

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Remorques (1941) stars Jean Gabin as André, a tugboat captain, married to the lovely, devoted Yvonne (Madeleine Renaud). As the film opens André and Yvonne appear to be the perfect couple. Everyone at a wedding for one of André’s crew members, looks to Yvonne and André, who’ve been married 10 years as the perfect couple. I sure did. They are loving, practical and truly care about each other deeply.

When the Cyclone, André’s boat is called to rescue a ship caught in a wild storm, Yvonne offers to console the bride whose honeymoon must be postponed and whose husband faces peril with his comrades. Yvonne shares how distraught she gets anytime her husband goes to sea and how lonely she is. Yvonne’s built her life around her marriage, while André’s first priority is his boat and its mission with his wife coming in a close second.

As the waves and storm attack the boats, the scenes of the storm thrill.

The rescue is daunting enough, but the greedy captain of the endangered ship doesn’t want to be rescued. If his boat is saved, he’ll have to pay the tugboat for doing so. He’d rather lose all his crew and cargo and collect the insurance. Now that’s a villain.

Disgusted by the evil captain, his wife Catherine (Michele Morgan) and some crew members escape in a raft and the tugboat takes them aboard. Of course, Catherine is stunning. She’s decided to leave her nasty husband.

You can probably guess what happens. Yep, Catherine tempts the faithful André. The film gets sentimental and predictable but Gabin, Renaurd and Morgan’s performances make Remorque compelling. It’s not a masterpiece, but it held my interest.

Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 2

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Much of the episode takes place in London, where Demelza and the two children just arrived. Ned is out of jail! But he needs to clear his name because he wasn’t exonerated, but just released it seems. Ross discovers that Ballentine, Ned’s former secretary just happens to be in London.  If Ross can find Balletine, then Ned’s sure to be in the clear.

When Ned is in the mood for fun and he takes his wife Kitty to the Pleasure Garden. Ross and Demelza, Caroline and Dwight join them. As you’d expect the Kitty, who’s African American is insulted and stared at. Kitty defuses a confrontation and Ned & Co. leave.

Back in Cornwall, Tess, a new snakelike servant that Demelza has helped by giving her a job, is plotting to seduce Ross. She dreams of being the lady of the house. Prudie is on to her though.

George is amenable to signing a contract with a devil, i.e. Hanson, who’s made a fortune across the pond trading who-knows-what and who has no problem with the slave trade. The ghost of Elizabeth convinces George not to sign, making Uncle Cary hit the ceiling. This grief-induced madness is not funny.

Geoffrey Charles and Hanson’s daughter Cecily are getting cozy. Both are going back to Cornwall, where they’ll picnic on the beach, but this romance is headed for rocky shores as Cecily’s father wants her to marry the rich George.

Ross finds Ballentine and eventually convinces him to do the right thing. Ballentine writes a letter to state what a noble, just man Ned is. Ross discreetly circulates the letter. He wants to protect Ballentine. However, Demelza figures all and sundry should know how great Ned is. She gets Kitty and Caroline to help her hand out copies of the letter, which given that some very powerful people oppose Ned and make a lot of money off of the slave trade, endangers Ballentine and Ned.

Morwenna shows her maternal side when Valentine, who’s the spitting image of Ross, tells her how he expects his mother Elizabeth to return. She tries to sympathetically break the truth to the boy. Drake dreams of starting a family, but Morwenna recoils much as she’d like to oblige. She’s still traumatized by odious Ossy’s fetishes. One day . . . In fact my guess is that the series may end with Morwenna giving birth or at least getting pregnant.

An incredible futurist, Dwight spoke about mental illness and how criminals should not be held culpable when they’re not of sound mind. Caroline beams with pride at his lecture. A lawyer hears him and gets him to testify at the trial for the man accused of attempting to assassinate the King. This does not go down well with the elite.

The episode had plenty to like and characters who infuriated. George is still dangerous and Tess should be sent packing. Ross better not give in to her “charms.” Ross and Dwight champion justice. Cecily’s complex so I don’t know if she belongs with Geoffrey Charles, but she seems to.

Dwight’s ideas about insanity seem too modern for the era.  The ghost of Elizabeth seems rather false, hard to buy, but I suppose the actress also had a five year contract, which doesn’t make much sense since if you read the books, you know she died.

SPOILER ALERT

Ballentine’s body washes up on the shore. That’s what you get for pointing a finger at the powerful.

Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 1

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It’s a bittersweet time with Poldark returning, but for the last year. What will 2020 bring from the BBC and PBS?

As I was viewing I was wondering if the storylines were based on the Winston Graham’s novels. I enjoyed the episode, but something seemed off. I was right. Deborah Horsfield explained that:

“we knew at the end of Season Four that we were not going to be able to finish all of the remaining five books, because the cast were only optioned for five series. So the options were to stop after Season Four, or to have a look at some of the events that might have taken place, some of which Winston Graham refers to in The Stranger from the Sea, and to cover a kind of similar time period that he would cover in each book, a period of about two years.”

So, we are getting a Horsfield story this year, which should be fine.

The episode began with a flashback to the American Revolutionary War when Ross is shot and a new character, his colonel and comrade Ned Despard finds him. We then move to Despard in jail giving his African American wife a note for Ross, his only hope. The governor of British Honduras, Despard is an abolitionist. He’s married his kitchen maid, Kitty. Kitty goes to England to get Ross’ help.

Geoffrey Charles has returned to Nappara and since his mother, Elizabeth has died has decided to quit school and enter the military academy. That takes money (seems there’s no GI Bill or ROTC yet). Ross takes him to see George, who sends his stepson packing. No surprise there unless you count Ross’ naivety. Who thought George would be generous.

Grief has driven George crazy. He’s isolated himself and left the Poldark estate. He’s seeing Elizabeth at the dinner table and hallucinating that the nursemaid is Elizabeth. While I’m glad to see Heida Reed back, I can’t buy her ghost. TV programs often have the ghost of a dead character and it rarely works for me.

All’s well with Demelza and Ross in terms of their marriage. When Kitty arrives asking Ross to accompany her to London to champion Ned’s cause Demelza knows she can’t stop him and I think admires his decision to stand up for what’s right. We’ll see a lot about abolition this season, which is set in 1800. The date emphasizes how long it took for slavery to end.

Another new character, Tess is the Norma Rae of the village. An out of work kitchen maid, Tess resents Demelza and tells her off. Tess is the spokeswoman for the unemployed miners who worked for George, but won’t accept his stingy lower wages. thus these poor folks are starving or close to it. Demelza promises to help and Tess replies with sarcasm. Not much later Demelza offers Tess a job, but the jaded maid snaps that she doesn’t want charity, forgetting that a job really isn’t charity.

It’s unclear whether Tess is involved soon after Ross leaves for London, a fire strikes late one night. Luckily, no one’s hurt and the fire’s put out, but Demelza (and the audience) wonder whether Tess is at all responsible. Tess should be watched. She’s hard to read.

Caroline is still mourning the death of her baby daughter and Morwenna recoils from Drake’s touch. Both women’s psychological states make sense, but I hope this season we seen them heal and move on. Both have exemplary husbands now and it’s nice to see their patience and love.

Two more new characters are Ralph Hanson, a merchant, and his daughter Cecily, who’s of marriageable age. Ralph is cut from a Warleggen cloth and I wouldn’t trade with him for all the tea in China. Cecily is a question mark. She’s shrewd and at first I thought trouble, but she shows up at the lecture against slavery so she may have some good in her. George’s uncle wants George to marry ASAP and clearly thinks Cecily would make a good match if only for her father’s money. Yet she bristles at such talk. A strong woman, Cecily is not about to do someone else’s bidding.

The premiere has set up some interesting themes and plot lines. I’m unsure about a story not based on the books, but I’ll be back this week and hope for the best.

Le Poison

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The comedy in Sacha Guitry’s La Poison (1951) is trés noir. In fact, I’m unsure if I should like it. In this guilty pleasure, La Poison gives us Paul Bracconier, a husband who can’t take his wife. Generally, I can’t stand jokes that put wives or husbands in a bad light, or that are just a series of complaints. But Blandaire Bracconier, the wife in question, is such a mean-spirited drunk with no redeeming qualities and it does seem that with a nicer woman, Paul would be a-okay, so I made an exception.

Also, since the wife has purchased rat poison to do her husband in, it seems they’re on equal footing.

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Played by Michel Simon (Two of a Kind , Port of Shadows and many other classics), Paul has a redeemable side. He doesn’t rush to murder his wife. At the start of the film he visits the local priest for sympathy, mercy and perhaps some advice.

When he hears a radio interview with a lawyer honored for getting murderers off, he goes to meet the lawyer. The conversation with the unethical lawyer convinces Paul that, yes, he can get away with murder so he is emboldened to try.

Scenes with the neighbors and their children add to the humor. One of my favorite scenes involves Paul’s neighbor visiting him in jail and recounting how grateful the neighbors are to Paul because his crime has increased tourism and business in the hamlet.

An entertaining film, La Poison is a dark, old-fashioned comedy that does show the problems in the legal system. According to the background commentary, Guitry made it as a commentary on his own incarceration when he was wrongly accused of collaborating with the Vichy government during WWII.

Victoria, Season 3, Episodes 2 & 3

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Episode 2: London Bridge is Falling Down

Starting right when the first episode ended, the second episode begins with Victoria in labor and the barbarians, a.k.a. Chartists are storming the palace gates. With Bertie and Vicky peering through the doorway, Victoria gives birth to Louise. Albert gets the guards to protect the palace and then scolds the former French king, duke and the blonde noble from last season. He hates gambling.

The Chartists decide to take their petition to the palace, but one of the rebels, puts up a fuss. Abigail is a bit perplexed and smitten with him.

The Duke of Wellington comes to the castle to inform the Queen that hundreds of thousands of Chartists are coming to the castle. The Duke, Lord Palmerston and PM advise stopping them with soldiers. The Queen doesn’t want to go to that extent.

Francatelli convinces Miss Skerrett to elope after he’s bought a small hotel. While she’s in love, her work means a lot to her. I don’t think she’ll be able to quit. Francetelli even kids her on that account.

Louis-Phillipe gets in trouble for scaring Bertie and Vicky by telling them about how royals can violently lose their heads. Albert asks him to leave.

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Albert’s “cottage” Osborne House

Someone finds a load of guns (500!) in the office space for the Chartists. The PM and Lord Palmerston take this as proof of their danger. They come close to convincing Victoria to send the army out to deal with them. However, Victoria realizes that the Chartists are too poor to acquire all that weaponry. She gets word out to Duke Wellington in the nick of time. The crisis is averted and the spy was caught. Still Albert gets his way and the family and nobles are off to the Isle of Wright to his “cottage.”

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Episode 3: Et in Arcadia

All are frolicking at Osborne House, but soon the Prime Minister and Lord Palmerston, who brought the troublemaking King of Hungary to London in the Queen’s absence, are summoned to the Isle of Wright.

Francatelli quits, which causes a stir. His wife “Miss” Skerrett still hesitates about announcing that she’s married and leaving.

Throughout the episode, Albert hectors Victoria for wanting to return to London and for craving her subjects’ love. On top of that, they clash over how Albert handles Bertie and his resistance to books and tutoring. Albert sees Osborne house as a paradise and it’s quite annoying that his family doesn’t love it there. Victoria and Albert’s conflict escalates to an argument at dinner with the full court watching when the Queen throws a glass of water in Albert’s face.

Victoria’s feeling overwhelmed by her marital strife and political problems back in London when Skerrett finally announces that she’s leaving and that she’s gotten married. Victoria feels betrayed and is hurt that Skerrett did all this behind her back.

My Take

Both episodes speed along and in addition to the main plot have storylines with the Duchess who’s married to an ogre, who’s sent her young son to boarding school against her will and the men she’s flirting with. Victoria’s sister Feo continues to plot and manipulate.

I was surprised that Miss Skerrett did tell the Queen she was leaving because she got married. I thought she wouldn’t be able to and I stand corrected. I still don’t see how Skerrett will be happy not working at the palace.

We’ve got plenty of comic relief with Victoria’s attempt at swimming and a mix up with the bedrooms between Foe and the Duchess.

The sibling rivalry between the adorable Vicky and Bertie is realistic as is Victoria and Albert’s marriage problems. Sure most people aren’t married to royalty, but V & A’s arguments and reactions are authentic and engaging. Again, Victoria offers compelling drama.

Le Ciel à Vous

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Jean Grémillion’s Le Ciel à Vous, stands out as it’s uplifting film. Released during the occupation during WWII, it’s the story of a married couple, who must move their family’s home and business when their land is sold to make room for an aviation club’s airfield. Thérèse and Pierre Gauthier are happily married and even when they disagree they respect each other. They have a daughter and a son.

When Lucienne Ivry, a famous aviatrix, performs at the airfield, the Gauthier’s flock to the show. Nostalgic, Pierre remembers his days as a mechanic in WWI. He’s a master mechanic and saves the day when Ivry’s airplane’s engine fails.

Pierre grows more and more keen on flying and takes it up as a hobby. Meanwhile, his competent, beautiful wife gets more jealous. Her jealousy propels her to take up flying herself on the sly. When Pierre finds out, he panics. But when he sees how much she loves flying, they begin to share this somewhat dangerous hobby. Since Pierre’s a great mechanic and Thérèse has a knack for business, they are able to afford their own plane. In fact, they soon start winning prizes for aviation. All isn’t smiles though, when the family hits some financial troubles, the parents decide to sell their daughter’s piano. (The daughter was a fabulous pianist, but the mother made her quit the piano since she wanted the girl to enter a more practical field.)

Gremillon_Filmw_CielVous_originalEven when the going gets tough, and it seems that they should sell their plane, Pierre and  Thérèse keep flying. She racks up so many trophies her mother complains of all the extra dusting. As proficient as he was, Pierre knew their plane couldn’t break any more records for me. Then Thérèse decides she has a good chance to break the women’s long distance record of 2000 some miles. Her mother is against it and Pierre is torn too. He wants her to seek fulfillment and he does believe she can do this, but he also realizes it’s dangerous. Grémillion gives us such a multi-faceted marriage at the film’s core. Each wants the best for each other. Both Pierre nor Thérèse believe in fulfilling their duties to their business and family. They don’t just do what feels good. They’re cheerful, smart people throughout the story and while they may disagree, they do so with respect and dignity, which was so uplifting to watch.

The plot held my attention and I admit I wasn’t certain what would happen at the end. This is a film I’d definitely watch again.