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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Recently I had the good fortune to see Esther Hoffenberg’s Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman and I must say, it was tres fantastique! It should be noted that being a fan of Bernadette Lafont both during and after her lifetime, and having enjoyed many of the films she had roles in, I was predisposed to like this 65-minute documentary. But to be in the target market for a film hasn’t always meant I’ve taken a shine to it—in other words, there’s never been a guarantee that just because the subject matter is of interest a movie is handled well. However Hoffenberg did such a fine job weaving together so many different moments from the late French actor’s life and career that her film grabbed me from the get-go and by time it was over I was left with a sense of peace and was utterly charmed. As one of Lafont’s granddaughters said toward the end of the film, “She’s gone but for us she’s still here.” That’s how Hoffenberg’s documentary made me feel, without it ever coming across as hagiography.

Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman traced the actor’s evolution from pin-up girl, to Nouvelle Vague (and post-Nouvelle Vague) model of feminist liberation, to mother and wife (as well as provider), to septuagenarian actor who found a late-period break-out hit as a drug dealing grandmother in the comedy Paulette. Along the way, the constellation of filmmakers she worked with was like a Who’s Who’s of French Cinema, featuring such luminaries as Jean Eustache, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Philippe Garrel, Anne-Marie Miéville, and on and on. An interesting moment for me was seeing Lafont passionately defend Eustache’s masterpiece The Mother and the Whore before an unsympathetic critic at Cannes who foolishly described it as a “non-film” (Mon dieu!). Other stand-outs were the interviews with Moshe Mizrahi and Christiane Rochefort talking about some of the finer anti-patriarchal aspects of Sophie’s Ways, a film I enjoyed just the other day.

Hoffenberg’s documentary featured many snippets of archived interviews with and movie clips and photographs of Lafont dating back to the fifties, as well as a more recent voice-over from Lafont that was occasionally tempered by a voice-over from Hoffenberg herself. Recent interviews with Lafont’s granddaughters and close friend and collaborator Bulle Ogier, among others, helped paint a more nuanced picture of Lafon’t life and career, which truth be told did have its ups and downs. And the documentary’s transitional music by Dario Rudy was first rate and very cool. Ultimately Bernadette Lafont, and God Created the Free Woman was a life affirming film about a figure on the cinematic landscape who traced a singular path. And like Bertrand Tavernier’s excellent My Journey Through French Cinema, it should be considered a must for those interested in francophone films and would likely inspire its viewers to seek out some of the more obscure titles covered within it.

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