During the late eighteenth century French architect Richard Mique built a small hamlet or village, Le hameau de la reine, whose style was based on those cottages dotted throughout Normandy’s Caux region
The hamlet was commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette and constructed in the park of the Petite Trianon, which is sited in the extensive gardens of the Chateau at Versailles.
Roses grew abundantly over the gate and the Queen walked along the rose arbour and a leafy bower on her way to milk the cows.
Marie Antoinette, who would not have realized it at the time, while pretending to be a shepherdess, could have been said, by her actions, to award rural life in France with the royal seal of approval.
Since then a combination of fashionable pride and rural conservatism has led to the French regional architectural style and way of life being developed and preserved in all its picturesque glory.
This is especially evident in Normandy, where the very look of the countryside and its people can seem familiar, at least for those born in England or whose ancestors were English.
The beauty of the lush green countryside of Normandy particularly inspired the modernist impressionist painters. They were beguiled by the entire experience from springtime apple blossoms to the early snow, which is rare.
Folies Bergére is an endearing poignant funny romantic gentle and insightful new film by French director and writer Marc Fitoussi.
He revisits country life and style to discover if Charolais cattle breeders Xavier Lecanu (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his wife Brigitte (Isabelle Huppert) are really living the good life.
The glories of the French countryside serve as a beauteous backdrop, and we become voyeurs on an exploration of the heartfelt emotions revealed by Xavier and Brigitte, who are about to break with conventions.
This is not a study of the French rural world, but rather a wonderful thought provoking exploration of a woman needing rebirth and the thinking man in her life. He, despite tearing himself to shreds internally, has the wisdom to allow her to conduct her search so that she will return and find him once more.
An idealization of country life has never really been one actually shared by those who work the land for a living.
They see it as a place offering a challenge to the human spirit.
Brigitte and Xavier are thoroughly modern farmers. They seem reasonably secure, not overworked or debt bound.
Dense hedgerows and rows of trees surround fields throughout the region of Normandy and waving wheat fields glint golden in the early morning sun, blush pink and creamy white blossoms enchant, as does a shimmering golden haze over orchards at sunset.
Hard work and technology has aided their success on their middle size property, where the surroundings look as if they come straight off a picture postcard.
Xavier is constantly winning awards for his prize bulls and cows.
This means his animals are much in demand, aiding the Lecanu family and they’re choices in life, as well as the French economy.
As farmers Xavier and Brigitte still face the same wear and tear and tedium of life, just as those living in urban environments do.
Brigitte however has reached that point in her life when with time on her hands to think. She can’t help sometimes feeling as if life may be passing her by.
She is a bit of a dreamer; loves jazz, enjoys dancing, and doesn’t do drugs, although she does enjoy the local vino.
Channelling an ‘Anglo Saxon’ connection, Brigitte also indifferently wears tartan while enjoying a diverse array of music from far away, well beyond the rainbow.
In this ideal countryside Brigitte and Xavier live differently than most of us do, far more in tune with the beauty and many moods of the seasonal rhythms.
With excellent direction by Marc Fitoussi, within a very short space of time we learn a little about the care of the cows and birthing of calves in springtime.
We also discover that Xavier is unable to come to terms with the new aspirations and expectations of his technologically savvy sensitive son, who doesn’t want to farm. He has left home to study ‘acrobatics’ at circus school, removing himself from both his father and his approval.
Brigitte too is bored. While everything looks perfect is it?
Not far across the field from Xavier and Brigitte’s cottage there is a delightful cottage orneé, one Brigitte admires.
Historically it fits well into the genre of being a kind of stage version of Marie Antoinette’s cottages in her Hameau.
The young people renting it have friends down from Paris for a party and the flashing coloured lights and seductive sounds of music wafting across the field and into Brigitte’s room at night, soon draw her outside unable to sleep.
There she meets Stan (Pio Marmai), a handsome young Parisian who much like herself, enjoys ideas of living free of all constraints. He has escaped the girls chasing him and he and Brigitte seem to hit it off right away.
He begs her to come to the party as he’s dragged off by one of the young women looking for him. Like a naughty teenage girl she decides to be reckless and so dresses and crosses the field.
He chooses to dance with her over younger girls and she cannot help but feel elated. In that moment her world changes as she inhales a breath of fresh air.
She drinks far too much and when Stan suggests they go off alone she finds she has cold feet; she hadn’t really wanted to become a cougar and so flees for home.
Xavier and Brigitte are both worldly people, who first met in agricultural school. He had overheard her say when asked what career she was going to pursue, that she wanted to be a ‘shepherdess’.
As he had the notion of being a bit of ‘shepherd’ himself it seems that they were made to be. Now in their mid 50’s he’s not so sure, because she’s suddenly acting a little more weirdly than usual. She seems unsatisfied, ill at ease and lacking in direction.
She’s distracted, restless, suffering badly from psoriasis, a rash caused by anxiety and stress that she gets from time to time reflecting that she’s struggling. Recently it has burst out all over her chest front and Xavier has suggested she needs to see a Doctor in Paris.
While making an appointment doesn’t appeal, she’s been down that road too many times before without success, the idea of ‘Paris’ stays with her and niggles at her for days. It’s not as if she hasn’t been there with Xavier, but now she’s seeking something more and it seems he cannot supply it.
Adventure beckons and so spontaneously Brigitte books herself into a well-appointed Parisian hotel for two nights and announces her intention to visit Paris for a few days.
She feels no guilt. She just wants to enjoy her moment in the sun, having an adventure of her own and on her own. This is not about Xavier but about who she has become and she needs to find out who that is. She seeks to refresh her spirit because the air around her feels stale.
When she arrives she chases down Stan, but again has cold feet when events gradually reveal who he really is. Returning to her hotel she meets a dashing Danish businessman Jesper (Michael Nyqvist), who is in Paris attending a conference.
They have an instant connection and while they both indulge each other for a while, they have both the sense and worldliness to know and realise that forming a relationship is not a reality outcome for either.
Theirs is a short sensual fabulous fling born of fantasy, which happened because of Brigitte’s world being in a state of flux.
It’s easy for us to understand her attraction to Jesper; he’s erudite, engaging, a handsome man of the world with a commanding presence and a personality that he reveals has a gentler side.
Michael Nyqvist (Jesper) is a consummate actor and certainly makes the most of his role, displaying great sensitivity and considerable élan.
While the movie belongs to its three main leads Marina Foïs (Christiane), Audrey Dana (Laurette), Clément Métayer (Grégoire), Jean-Charles Clichet (Régis), and Anaïs Demoustier (Marion) expertly support them.
Isabelle Huppert is quite superb. We connect well with her humanity and character. She’s a hard worker, cooks capably, is wonderful with the animals, and kind to all those in her life.
Playing her role with quiet restraint, Huppert displays great empathy with Brigitte and we feel her light hearted humour and her wonderful tenderness and warmth.
A small encounter with a young Indian man trying to make a living on the streets of Paris, whose path she crosses, leads to Apu (Lakshan Abenayake) turning up at the farm near the end to gain employment as one of her husband’s farm hands.
Huppert said in an interview with writer Sylvie Dauvillier about the making of the movie “… When reading the script, I once again enjoyed the quality of the dialog, the comical and clever situations, always on the edge. Marc never abandons a character and his look, full of funniness, tenderness and humanity, manages to make them likeable. In this sense, his cinema, thanks to his intelligence and precision, reminds me of the golden age of Hollywood comedy” she said.
She also noted “…there is no blame or dispute in this couple, just a form of weariness and everyday life that, one day, needs to be shaken”.
Jean-Pierre Darroussin as Xavier gives a sterling performance; he is a very fair, insightful man of the country, one entirely down to earth who is completely comfortable in his rural surroundings.
It’s no surprise to find out that in real life actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin grew up in a small village where Charolais cows are bred and that his uncle was a cattle-breeder.
In an interview he observed about his character that he “… is above all a sentimental, somebody who gets up in the morning with the sense of living something wonderful with these animals, this nature. Giving life, producing good meat… He is proud.” he said.
Xavier doesn’t want to ever give in to failure and he knows that relationships are a fragile thing, in many ways just like his beloved cattle, who he handles with ‘kid gloves’.
He is refined, very well read; enjoying his outing to the city and visit to a museum where he encounters a wonderful painting and sculpture of a shepherdess.
He reaffirms that he covets his country life with the woman “…who he found fragile and off the wall. Protective, he has wide enough shoulders to accept the differences of the ones he loves”… he noted.
Darrouissin allows us to feel Xavier’s vulnerability, especially in the lovely scene where he re-discovers how to be a ‘dad’ and comes to admire his son for who he is, not a carbon copy of himself.
One of the main consequences of the cult surrounding the art of the picturesque that flowed from the late eighteenth century in France at the Queen’s hamlet to the nineteenth century art of country life to England and then back into Europe was to stimulate a feeling for the countryside among people who were not landowners or practicing farmers.
It’s an impression that stays in the mind as this engaging movie certainly does.
Sentimental and just a little romantic too, when Brigitte does finally return from Paris Xavier wines and dines her and also books a holiday so that they can go away together, rekindle their love, embrace ‘change’ and move forward, continuing to live the ‘good life’.
Marc Fitoussi’s Folies Bergére is a truly delightful contemplative portrait of a country landscape, and of a marriage in need of a renaissance, one that is both wonderfully imagined and brilliantly achieved.
A beautiful love story for the modern age it also proves, that it is never too late for any of us to change.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
Watch the Trailer
A film by
Starring Isabelle Huppert
Michael Nyqvist Palace Cinemas,
Australian Release Date December 11, 2014
In French with English subtitles
Brigitte Isabelle Huppert
Xavier Jean-Pierre Darroussin
Jesper Michael Nyqvist
Stan Pio Marmaï
Régis Jean-Charles Clichet
Christiane Marina Foïs
Laurette Audrey Dana
Marion Anaïs Demoustier
Grégoire Clément Métayer
Apu Lakshan Abenayake
Writer / Director Marc Fitoussi
Collaboration/Writer Sylvie Dauvillier
Producer Caroline Bonmarchand
Co-producer Isaac Sharry
Head of production Frédéric Blum
Director of photography Agnès Godard – AFC
Sound Olivier le Vacon – AFSI
Production designer François Emmanuelli
Costume designer Marité Coutard
Make-up Thi-Loan N’Guyen
Hair Fred Souquet
Editor Laure Gardette
Sound editor Benjamin Laurent
Mixing Emmanuel Croset
Original score Tim Gane & Sean O’Hagan