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STORY OF WOMEN, THE (Une affaire de femmes)(director/writer: Claude Chabrol; screenwriters: story by Francis Szpiner/Colo Tavernier; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Monique Fardoulis; music: Matthieu Chabrol; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Marie Latour), (Francois Cluzet (Paul), Marie Trintignant (Lulu/Lucie), Nils Tavernier (Lucien); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Marin Karmitz; New Yorker Video; 1988-France-in French with English subtitles)
“An artfully done and disturbing film that raises questions about controversial social issues.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“The Story of Women” was based on the real-life tale of Marie Latour, who in 1943 was guillotined by the Vichy Government. They declared abortion as a ‘crime against the state’ because it took away from the potential pool of soldiers. Marie was one of the last women executed in France. The prolific filmmaker Claude Chabrol (”Le Boucher”) directs this hauntingly stark docudrama about social injustice with a sympathy towards the victim. He dedicates his film to “all its interpreters,” hoping that people will get past their set beliefs and view the human drama of this controversial story. He urges at the film’s moving conclusion for the viewer to “have pity for the children of those who are condemned.”

It’s 1941 in a Nazi-occupied provincial French town. The marvelous Isabelle Huppert plays Marie Latour, a poor, uneducated woman whose hubby (Francois Cluzet) is a loser, a lazy loafer and a drunkard. She lives in poverty with her two small children, barely able to feed them while her husband is away at a labor camp. One day she rushes into her neighbor’s apartment and finds her trying to perform an abortion on herself. Marie assists while using a crude homemade device, and for her success the woman gives her a Victrola as a present. Marie muses that she has come up with a way to beat her poverty and improve her lot in life, as other desperate women hear about her and bring her their business. When her shell-shocked husband returns from the labor camps, Marie turns her new skills as an abortionist into a thriving business and also begins to board prostitute friends on the side. She befriends a prostitute (Marie Trintignant), who recognizes in her struggle the plight of all women and brings her all her prostitute contacts who need help. The climate Marie lives in is rife with corruption, black-marketeering and despair. Her weakling husband doesn’t interest her anymore sexually, so she pays one of her prostitute friends to service him while she takes as a lover a young collaborator (Nils Tavernier). The family gets through the war well-fed and living in better quarters than before. One unfortunate incident occurs when a woman who had been using poison to induce a miscarriage is forced by her husband to go to Marie for help, but dies. Her perturbed husband commits suicide, leaving their young children to be raised by her sister. After the war the cowardly disapproving husband betrays Marie to the cowardly Vichy government, and the third act has her on trial as an abortionist. The trial, which the occupation government wanted in order to make an example of her, depicts Marie as a plain, unsmiling resourceful woman who refuses to buckle to the authorities as she cuts a figure of dignity compared to her hypercritical accusers.

Chabrol plays it low key as he builds his case against the vile Vichy government and their swinish behavior, leaving it clearly in the hands of the viewer to be the jury in deciding her guilt or innocence. For Chabrol, the only crime was in leaving the condemned woman’s only son, who acts as narrator, to be raised without a mother. It’s an artfully done and disturbing film that raises questions about controversial social issues and will still provoke the modern viewer.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”