This is the latest film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 14 is called "Masters of the West Week: Agnes Varda and Chantal Akerman":
Usually these categories consist of only one "master", but since we're celebrating an anniversary, I say let's take it up a notch. That's right, ladies and gentleman, this time around you get to choose from the filmography of not just one essential, inspirational French director, but TWO.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by either Agnes Varda or Chantal Akerman.
Among the films people selected for this week's challenge were Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, and several by Varda: Cléo from 5 to 7, Faces Places, The Gleaners & I, and Vagabond. I went with Le Bonheur for the obvious reason that I hadn't yet seen it.
"Le bonheur" translates to "happiness", and rarely has there been a title that so straddled the line between straightforward and ironic. Le Bonheur is a pretty film, perhaps even excessively so, and with Mozart on the soundtrack, it all seems quite happy indeed. There's the husband and wife and two kids, one boy, one girl. Their lives seem bright ... they often picnic in nature, he likes his job as a carpenter, she's a happy homemaker and mother. None of it feels ironic at first, although I'm sure a second viewing would change that reaction. Midway through the movie, the husband begins an affair. He is happier than ever. He tells his mistress he loves her and she makes him happy, but that he also loves his wife, she also makes him happy, and she was there first. The wife notices her husband seems happier than ever. The film is overwhelmed with happiness.
Then something happens that puts a stop to the happiness. You knew it couldn't last.
Except by the end of the film, the mistress has essentially replaced the wife, and the central nuclear family is happy once again.
The husband is clearly a solipsist ... he is happy when he can do what he wants, and assumes his happiness is everyone's happiness. Varda doesn't take his side, exactly, but ultimately, she doesn't take sides at all. Le Bonheur is disconcerting because we keep waiting for someone to pass judgement on what we are seeing, and it never happens.
Here is how the film begins:
The husband is played by Jean-Claude Drouot. The wife and children are non-professionals played by Drouot's real-life wife and kids. There is a naturalness to the performance of Claire Drouot as the wife, but she never seems amateurish.
#925 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.
(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)