French director Xavier Beauvois’ intimate drama explores the lives of women who are left behind to work a family farm during the Great War.
As the centenary of the First World War is being observed, a number of very fine films have set out to understand this period in modern history, a period that shook apart the world and moved us into a new era of mechanized death. Xavier Beauvois' beautifully rendered Les Gardiennes concentrates on a family of French farmers as an example of how the war impacted his own country.
The year is 1916, the year of Verdun, perhaps the most important year for the French of the entire war. The women of the Pardier farm, under the deft hand of the family's matriarch, must grapple with the workload while the men, including two sons, are off at the front.
When a young outsider to the area arrives, her help is initially welcomed; Francine is a good worker, honest and upright. But when the sons return on leave, emotions are stirred, in turn ruffling local sensibilities — and prompting a powerful narrative pivot.
The scope of Les Gardiennes is intimate, yet Beauvois revels in the beauties and mysteries of the French countryside, here unravaged by war. In moments reminiscent of Malick's Days of Heaven, the rituals of farm work are celebrated, but the focus remains on the intricate family drama that plays out against the upheaval of the Great War.