For her tenth feature French director Catherine Corsini has chosen a love story set against the backdrop of the burgeoning feminist movement in France during the 1970s. It’s a fascinating look at how far women have come over the last four decades in their fight for equality and the changes in the way society views homosexuality. At the same time it’s both a stark reminder of the battle women faced for control of their own bodies and an uplifting celebration of the female solidarity that grew from the feminist movement. Beligan actress Cécile de France (Carole) and Izia Higelin (Delphine) are wholly convincing as the star-crossed lovers whose sexual attraction comes as a surprise to them both. One is a bourgeois, intellectual whose feminist principals are fiercely debated and discussed amongst like-minded individuals while the other is a farmer’s daughter who witnesses female inequality on a daily basis. Director of photography Jeanne Lapoirie’s painterly images of the stunning countryside of France’s central Corrèze region set a lyrical tone which contrasts beautifully with the energy of the earlier Paris-based scenes. Only the second half of the film starts to drag as the main protagonists frustratingly cover the same ground time and again. This aside, Corsini’s film is a thought-provoking, sensual delight.
La Belle Saison kicks off a few years after the seismic changes brought about by May ’68. It was a time when a new generation of political activists were beginning to make their voices heard and Corsini’s film captures perfectly the sense of optimism and invincibility expressed by groups like Carole’s. Yet this is a country divided in two. Sophisticated city-types sing revolutionary songs and write political manifestos while women like Delphine, living in small rural communities, are unable to arrange bank loans, let alone freely express their sexuality. And Corsini shows how some of these women were complicit in their own downfall – easily working as hard as men on the land, but returning home in the evening to prepare meals and carry out household tasks. Equally shocking, and one of La Belle Saison‘s most powerful scenes, is the discovery by Delphine’s mother, the incomparable Noèmie Lvovsky, of her daughter’s homosexuality. Her mixture of incomprehension and repulsion echoes that felt by many in today’s anti-gay movement. Alongside the politics, there’s plenty of nudity and sex which Corsini handles with a refreshing lack of inhibition.
Interestingly, Corsini named her two female leads after two prominent figures of the feminist movement in France. Director Carole Roussopoulos, who filmed the first street march by the gay community on May 1, 1970 and the actress and radical feminist Delphine Seyrig.