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’ (Of Gods and Men) beautifully rendered Les gardiennes (The Guardians) 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 Paridier farm, under the deft hand of the family’s matriarch, Hortense (Nathalie Baye), 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 (Iris Bry) 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.
Based on Ernest Perochon’s 1924 novel, Les gardiennes takes a contemplative, slow-paced look at the Great War from the perspective of those whose stories are seldom told. Cannes Grand Prix winner Beauvois, offers a simply told and beautifully conveyed account of the devastating events which will eventually lead the way to the emancipation of women throughout Europe. Basing most of the action away from the battleground, the director offers an alternative war movie, one where the fight takes place at home rather than on the battlefield.
“A sober, quietly affecting wartime drama. This femme-centric drama proves that Beauvois still masters his uniquely classical brand of filmmaking, coaxing strong performances out of veteran Nathalie Baye and newbie Iris Bry, who makes an impressive screen debut.” (Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter)
“Meditative in its pacing, painterly in composition, quietly devastating in its low-key drama, the latest film from Xavier Beauvois is a picture which embraces the gentle rhythms of a simple lifestyle, set against a backdrop of fundamental and permanent change. This a strikingly beautiful work.” (Wendy Ide, Screen Daily)