Xavier Beauvois’s The Guardians

“The strength of women left alone to fend for themselves is the communal focus of actor and director Xavier Beauvois’s The Guardians,” writes Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, introducing his interview with the director. “After directing Of Gods and Men (2010), Beauvois’s excellent neo-western set among French monks in Algeria, we lost sight of this under-estimated director—his next was a quasi-comedy I’m dying to see about ruffians stealing Chaplin’s corpse—though it was a delight to encounter him earlier this year before the camera as one of Juliette Binoche’s many love (and sex) interests in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In.The Guardians is “adapted from an obscure 1924 novel by Ernest Pérochon about a struggling farmstead on the home front of the First World War, and [it’s] one of the exceptional films of the year. Beauvois, whose collaborations are impeccable (his regular cinematographer, Caroline Champetier, has worked with Godard, Rivette, Lanzmann, and Carax; his score is by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’s Michel Legrand), is the kind of effortless filmmaker who reminds audiences that each edit can (and should) be adroitly chosen and timed, that the framing of an image can be beautiful without being adorned, and whose direction of actors keeps performances curt but moving.”

Beauvois’s lead is Nathalie Baye, “another trusted partner (Le petit lieutenant,Selon Matthieu),” notes Aurélie Godet, writing for Cinema Scope. “Hortense (Baye) is left in charge of the family’s farm after all of the men, except for her aging father, have been mobilized to the front. Her daughter Solange (Baye’s real life daughter Laura Smet) helps out, but the excess of work demands hiring an extra hand, and the young Francine moves in. Here’s another surprise to savour: the actress who plays Francine, Iris Bry, a newcomer cast on the street, is a natural, fully living up to her character’s gradually increasing prominence in the story.”

The Guardians can seem so discreet and episodic that it takes on the guise of a telefilm,” writes Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter, “whereas it’s really something much stronger: a serious-minded and, in its closing reels, rather powerful portrait of women getting by in a world where all the men are either gone or gone mad.”

“This is a strikingly beautiful work,” writes Screen’s Wendy Ide. More from Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa, where Fabien Lemercier interviews Beauvois. The Guardians premiered in Toronto as a Special Presentation and now screens in the Official Competition at the sixty-first BFI London Film Festival.

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