22 December 2020

Marcel Hanoun's Une simple histoire (1959)


To a small extent this brilliant film by Marcel Hanoun will recall Ken Loach's television film Cathy Come Home (1966), although it was made in France seven years before. This too is about homelessness, although the circumstances and the situations are different from Loach's highly influential film.

Une simple histoire begins with the mother (Micheline Bezancon) and her young child Sylvie (Eliabeth Huart) found by a sympathetic woman sleeping rough on wasteland. She invites them in and leaves them in her home while she goes to work.

There then follows a long flashback in which the mother's backstory is partly revealed: she has come to Paris with her young daughter on leaving Lille, where she can't (for reasons unknown) return to her husband, and where her mother-in-law is hostile to her.

The Paris of the time is hostile to her too: she's a young mother with a child, which in 1959 was classed as a bastard and the woman 'fallen'. She spends much of the time searching for jobs, going from cheap hotel to cheap hotel, eating out in the cold mainly, sometimes taken pity of by strangers, but mostly unwelcome and her money dwindling all the time. The grainy black and white images underline the grimness of this realistic story.

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