A Nail, a Rose:
And Other Stories
By Madeleine Bourdouxhe
"Gilles' Wife" (aka, "La Femme de Gilles")
What a harmonious little household in the French countryside this is. Gilles (Clovis Cornillac) delights his loving wife Elisa (Emmanuelle Devos) as a masterful husband who satisfies her in every way, from his duties in bed to his duties as a caring father for their two girls. Idyllic... until Gilles takes a fancy to Elisa's treacherous sister, Victorine (Laura Smet).
It doesn't take long for Elisa to understand the double betrayal. Gilles is too obtuse and Victorine way too selfish to hide it from her. In fact, the sheer insensitivity of this pair of betrayers is displayed so egregiously and publically it can hardly be believed. Elisa isn't enraged. She martials her internal forces with minimal outward appearance in a display of forbearance that could qualify her for sainthood. She holds to the belief that Gilles will get over it despite his denials.
That is, when they finally talk about it. Dialogue in any form is nearly absent from this house. When Victorine dances with another man in front of Gilles and Elisa, his jealousy ignites and it's he who flies into a rage. This dummy conceals nothing and his wife says nothing.
Emmanuelle Devos devotedly centralizes a woman's frustration and her cowardly adaptation to disintegrating circumstances with a man whose sensitivity seems to have been arrested at birth. Her adaptability, created by director Frederic Fonteyne from a script by Philippe Blasband adapted from the novel by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, is suspect as a credible basis for a hot, steamy romp in French infidelity and melodrama.
For me, its only virtue lies in putting Devos to work. An actress of considerable depth and a juicy range of expressiveness ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped," "Kings and Queen" her talent isn't the master of this annoyingly passive character. And when no one in the small town cares or even makes note of Elisa's publically displayed marital insults, the credibility of the story bursts and tensions turn into pretensions. It comes off as reaching too far for originality, a sense that is only tied up with a ribbon by a completely dumb and desperate twist ending.
It lost me, but maybe it's a French thing.