“The Guardians”: The Great War Through the Eyes of Women

Seven years after his acclaimed Of Gods and Men, director Xavier Beauvois is back to pay homage to the women of rural France who were obliged to work in the fields when the men left to fight in World War I. His latest movie, The Guardians, will be out in the U.S. this Friday.

France, 1915. The country is at war with Germany, and its men have been sent to the front. In the countryside, women continue to work tirelessly in their absence to save their farms. With the help of her daughter Solange, Hortense keeps her farm running while her husband, two sons, and son-in-law are away. As the rainy season approaches, she hires Francine, a young girl from a children’s home, to help. While home on a short period of leave, the youngest family member, Georges, falls in love with Francine, who believes she has finally found a family. But the arrival of a garrison of American soldiers and the manipulations of Hortense combine to undermine this fragile balance…

While developing the story, Xavier Beauvois drew certain inspirations from a novel of the same name published in 1924 by Ernest Pérochon. This magnificent cinematic adaptation succeeds in communicating the pain of war and the grueling nature of living and working in the countryside. Time slowly slips by from season to season, while the camera offers an intimate portrayal of these women’s bodies as they sow, harvest, feed the animals, and chop wood. While the war never reaches their doorstep, the fear of death looms constantly through information sent back from the front. Hortense and Solange are played respectively by Nathalie Baye (Venus Beauty Institute, The Return of Martin Guerre, Day for Night) and Laura Smet (Eager Bodies, Yves Saint Laurent). The two actresses are also mother and daughter in real life, and are here featured in a movie together for the first time ever. However, the real highlight is the discovery of Iris Bry, the fledging actress who plays Francine, who was scouted by chance by the casting director while walking through the streets of Paris. She glows on screen, and her red hair and delicate, precise acting are reminiscent of Isabelle Huppert at the start of her career.

U.S. release: May 4

Run time: 134 min
Director: Xavier Beauvois
With: Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet, Iris Bry, Olivier Rabourdin, Yann Bean
Distributor: Music Box

Article published in the May 2018 issue of France-Amérique

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