21 March 2021

Sólveig Anspach's Lulu femme nu | Lulu in the Nude (2013)

Only after the film had long finished did I begin to make analogies between Lulu femme nu and other stories, mainly in other films but notably in one novel: Kate Chopin's The Awakening. But this novel, although feminist like Lulu femme nu, belongs – much like Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan – to a very different time in history, a time when freedom, desertion of a spouse, was just not possible: suicide (by a bullet as in Elvira Madigan or just walking out to sea as in The Awakening) was the only possibility.

But in the twenty-first century Lulu (Karin Viard) runs out of the sea – which must have been very cold for the time of year – naked to her new lover Charles (Bouli Lanners), her nakedness symbolic (like her losing her wedding ring) of the freedom which is now beginning to dawn on her, like a release from the slavery which years of housework have imposed on her, deadening her life, making it impossible to express herself. She is beginning the relatively long process of becoming her own person: even the name of the place she's come to and miserably failed to find a job mainly due to lack of confidence, lack of knowledge of who she is – Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie – distinctly alludes to a cross, maybe a turning in life?.

Fêtes foraines, or fairs, are often used to different purposes in films. In contrast to the irony of the violence of funfair scenes in, for instance, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train or  Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, we have one of the most famous kisses in French film history: between Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan in Marcel Carné's Quai des brumes – itself incidentally an adaptation of Mac Orlan's novel, which this film is of Étienne Davodeau's BD novel, also of the same name. In the fête foraine Lulu has a go on the auto-tamponneuses (dodgems) and by chance meets Charles again, before they've really got together, and he  returns her the mobile phone he originally casually tossed away (again symbolically).

This still doesn't bring them together though, and it's a little while before they kiss and go to bed. Of course, it can't last and the penniless Lulu, who's had her credit card gobbled up by an ATM, has to hitch home, although she's knows that she's already been spied on by her teenage daughter Morgane (Solène Rigot) and sister Cécile (Marie Payen). But she doesn't arrive home yet, she still has plenty to learn about reliving. Oddly enough, perhaps, the lessons come from Marthe (Claude Gensac in her penultimate film) after Lulu steals her handbag and then immedaitely returns it, telling Marthe it's the first time she's ever done such a thing. Marthe says she can see that, and Lulu stays at her house for a few days, looking after Marthe and hearing about her 'grosse connerie' of sleeping with her best friend Yvette Merle's husband. They get on really well.

Lulu takes to visiting a nearby café – where we get a brief view of Étienne Davodeau himself, and where Corinne Masiero may not have the same authority as Capitaine Marleau, but the character she plays owns the place and rules it with a rod of iron. Lulu is affected by the way she bosses the server Virginie (Nina Meurisse) around, and on learning that Virginie has been there four years tells her she's wasting her youth away: Lulu now knows what she's talking about. She leads Virginie back to Marthe's, asking her if she minds the girl coming in. Marthe just asks Virginie if she knows Simone de Beauvoir's first name, to which Virginie naturally replies 'Simone', which means she's supplied the password for admission! And soon the three of them go to the café, Marthe complains that their beers are too warm, the owner starts arguing with them, Marthe very loudly shouts her down, and Virginie howls along too, which is of course invigorating as she is also howling herself out of a job and into a real life.

To cut a long story short, as a mother of three children Lulu feels she has a duty to return home. She does so with Marthe and they wait for her husband to come. When he does he hits Lulu, which knocks her head on the door jamb and she falls to the floor unconscious. When Marthe sees this she has a heart attack from which she doesn't recover. But Lulu does recover and her brutal husband is given until the next day to get out of her life. Which of course allows Charles back in.

Maybe in my summing up paragraph I too have been brutal, as this makes the film sound a little farsical or contrived: it isn't, this is a very successful feminist statement, and also at times a really humorous work.

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