Title: Le Bonheur
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Agnès Varda
Music: Jean-Michel Defaye
Cinematography: Claude Beausoleil, Jean Rabier
Agnès Varda’s third feature LE BONHEUR, which means “happiness”, starts as a mellifluous, twee collage of vignettes fetchingly limning the Chevaliers’s tenor of life, a nuclear family of four, François and Thérèse and their two toddlers (played by real-life couple Jean-Claude and Claire Drouot with their kids Olivier and Sandrine), he is a carpenter and she is a dressmaker, inhabiting in their small house but their life is brimful of hygge.
François is a gladsome lad, when he chances upon Émilie Savignard (Boyer) who works in the post office, their mutual attraction inevitably leads to physical engagement, but there is no lie to compound this adulterous affair, François is bluff about his married status, and his polyamorous theory (he loves both Thérèse and Émilie, the only reason he cannot stay with the latter can be boiled down to a simple fact, he meets the former first) finds a fitting audience in Émillie, who, apart from bandying about that she feels unhappy when he is with his family, doesn’t resolve to act as a home-wrecker.
To assuage his guilty feeling, during a family outing in their old haunting, the luxuriant countryside which opens the film, François confesses to Thérèse his extramarital activity and guilelessly pleads her that nothing will change for her and their family’s sake, and apparently Thérèse takes the news in her stride, they even enjoy a roll in the hay alfresco. Up to this point, Varda profusely swamps audience with her gleeful chirpiness, archly experiments many a trick to leaven up its straightforward narrative, often in concert with allegro passages (Mozart’s pieces): quick jump cuts of furniture incessantly breaks a fluid directness when François visits Émilie’s apartment for the first time; previously, in the scene where they attempt their first date outside a bar, Varda alters the focuses of close-ups to the periphery, prompts a documentary spontaneity; not to mention a coup de maître when she pans the camera behind a bole, forges a long shot to-and-fro in observing the partner-swapping pas-de-deux, intimating the state of affairs tongue-in-cheek.
A seismic kicker (although the causation is never explicitly laid bare) actualizes itself inadvertently which clears the hindrance of François and Émelie’s union, here Varda, in her extraordinary sense of downplaying opprobrium, lets the banality cast a clouded shadow onto the story, Émelie, who avers earlier that she doesn’t want to be anyone’s replacement, takes up the motherly role with alacrity, and the film ends in the same exuberant mise-en-scène, a renewed family of four sauntering in the woods, all is fine, but is it?
Covering her beneficent reproach toward a woman’s replace-ability and a man’s fun-seeking naiveté, with sublime visual affinity and chromatic repose, Varda’s LE BONHEUR is an internally rapier-like, externally glacé critique, her feminine intuition and tangibility proves why petticoat ingenuity is a game-changer in our cinematic progression, a tenet worthy of our unconditional espousal.