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A Simple Heart

Un Coeur simple

By Berlioz Deborah

When the amorous enchantment of a young provincial girl named Félicité (Sandrine Bonnaire) ends up being short-lived, the lonely girl enters the service of a wealthy family. She becomes the maid of a strict widow, Mathilde Aubain (Marina Foïs), and so, has to run the household and take care of the woman’s young son and daughter. From this point, she will devote her life entirely to this family, but only to face further rejections and tragedies over the years.
Sandrine Bonnaire as Félicité
Sandrine Bonnaire as Félicité

For her first movie as a director, the former actress Marion Lainé choses to adapt the famous novel written by Gustave Flaubert. To adapt a masterpiece of French literature is a risky bet, especially when it is your first time behind the camera. But the young director doesn't come out of it too badly.

First, she takes great care of the settings. The action takes place in rural Normandy, in a gorgeous bourgeois house. The images are beautiful, the shots meticulous. The work on the colours is interesting. They are dark or drab in moments of sadness, bright in the rare real moments of joy. This work is particularly noticeable in the widow’s dresses. Her fully black dress shows her strict and severe character. Just once, she lets herself go and seems finally to be able to feel some strong feelings. At this very short moment she appears in a yellow dress, in a room plenty of light. It’s a quite basic and simple work on colours in fact, but it makes for drammatic effect.

Marion Lainé also resorts skillfully to time ellipsis. In fact, during 105 minutes you’ll see twenty years of the characters’ lives. The resort to the ellipsis avoids boring narration, and allows to focus on the key moments
Mathilde Aubain (Marina Foïs) and Félicité (Sandrine Bonnaire)
Mathilde Aubain (Marina Foïs) and Félicité (Sandrine Bonnaire)
of the story. This concisesness is a good quality of the new director, especially when we know how French directors are only too prone to never-ending scenes…

Two women stand iin the midst of Lainé’s movie, two very different characters. There is the strict and withdrawn widow, who refuses to express any love or affection for her children. Few feelings show through her severe face. In contrast, Félicité is warm, spontaneous, and the embodiment of unconditional goodness. The two of them form a very interesting couple. However, the one who most received my attention was not the most important one. While the entire movie is supposed to be the story of Félicité, the simple heart from the title, I was much more interested in Miss Aubain, the severe widow. I have a few reasons to explain that.

First, we know that her severity and her inability to express feelings is just a façade. It makes her a lot more mysterious than the other who is desperately looking for love…  But this difference of interest for the characters comes above all from the actresses. Marina Foïs really is amazing in the role of a strict widow. Those used to seeing her in comic roles with the French comedic troup "Les Robins des bois", will be amazed to see how perfectly she manages to let us forget her usual funny daces in order to embody this severe bourgeois widow.  On the contrary, I soon got tired of Sandrine Bonnaire. I can’t say she’s bad at playing a simple and ingenuous woman, but her constantly beatific face ends up boring me. However, as other critics acclaimed her performance, I guess it’s just a matter of taste.

So, at the end I would say that “A simple heart” is a fairly good adaptation of Flaubert’s novel. However, to appreciate it you have to like the romantic and sentimental stories that will force you to drop a little tear. From my point of view, this kind of story is only useful for a bit of relaxation and nothing more. Perhaps a little too “fleur bleue” (sentimental) for me…


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