CRITICAL – The novelist and filmmaker adapts the fate of the Balzacian heroine in a delicately feminist vein. A way to modernize the novel, while offering Olivier Gourmet a role of avaricious patriarch that will be remembered.
To adapt is to betray, they say. The successful writer and filmmaker Marc Dugain, to whom we owe The officers’ room Where Ordinary execution, where he stigmatized the misdeeds of Stalinism, knows this only too well. He made it his job.
By choosing to rub shoulders with a literary monument such as Balzac, he nevertheless knows that he is leaning, like his friend Xavier Giannoli, who has set his sights on Lost illusions , on a story of unfailing romantic power. From the outset, the generic warns: “Freely adapted from the work of Honoré de Balzac.” Marc Dugain comes to put his two cents in the Balzacian broth! But he does it with finesse, precision, and with a trio of outstanding actors: Olivier Gourmet, Joséphine Japy and Valérie Bonneton.
Eugenie Grandet is the anti-Father Goriot. Where in Goriot, Balzac told the sad fate of a wealthy father, devoted even to the sacrifice to his two daughters, Eugenie Grandet paints the portrait of an all-powerful patriarch, a provincial cooper who deploys treasures of seduction on the outside to better conceal a terrifying harshness within. When the film begins, the director also offers a key scene that says a lot about the personality of this formidable man.
A few leagues from Saumur, Father Grandet (a masterful Olivier Gourmet of malicious cunning) awaits Chartier, a buyer to whom he intends to sell an old ruined church. Grandet palaver, quibbles, negotiates. The discussion shows all the complexity of the character, his brutality under the sugary velvet of the traps he sets. “It is almost sacrilege to destroy what faith has built. It is a blow to attract a divine curse “, opposes him the man. “There you are suddenly devout, Chartier!” Make me a reasonable offer or I’ll turn my heels on forever », Assures him Grandet. Like a proud Raminagrobis, the Patriarch Matois is licking his chops, because he knows he has already won the case. On his way home, he finds his wife and daughter wisely waiting to sit down to eat.
Filmed in chiaroscuro
A clock strikes. The candle flame flickers. The broth is smoking. We then get to know the beautiful and wise Eugenie. Joséphine Japy accurately embodies a girl to marry “More than the first youth”. A hieratic young woman who is guessed to have been crushed by her father, the heroine is waiting for someone she loves to propose to her. For that, Felix Grandet would still have to grant him a dowry. To this, the person responds curtly: “Is my daughter’s happiness worth getting rid of a necessarily considerable sum of money?” I am waiting to be convinced of it. “
Marc Dugain makes his film a hymn to passive resistance
Because, yes, it is indeed the picture of a miser of the worst kind that Marc Dugain depicts in Eugenie Grandet. The filmmaker uses sobriety to achieve this. The film is striking with its counting, its unsaid, its ellipses. Filmed in chiaroscuro, like Vermeer’s paintings from Delft, the story ofEugenie Grandet gradually turns into a fine psychological study. Especially when it comes to showing the confrontation of a father against his daughter. Grandet confines what he considers his property. Eugenie, she resists in silence, Pénélope marmoréenne who endures without flinching the torments which are inflicted on her, condemned to endless needlework, while contemplating nature from her window. Even the arrival in Saumur of the handsome Charles, a penniless Parisian cousin suddenly offering him the revelation of love, even giving him the courage to contravene his father’s orders, will do nothing. Grandet quickly closes the lid of the paternal pot on her.
Yet Marc Dugain makes his film a hymn to passive resistance. By modernizing the novel, he offers a destiny to this majestic heroine. It allows an erased woman to reappear in the landscape. Against the hardest dams, the fluidity of a trickle of water will always do its job and will finally make its way. Can we talk about feminism? Marc Dugain never forces the line. He just lets hope germinate. In this, he remains faithful to the Balzacian spirit.