I wrote this piece over a year ago for Cinematheque Internationale Of Philadelphia. I am including it here because I recently revisited this film with my friend Charlette. It’s a remarkable little film and serves as a good initiation to anyone unfamiliar with the French New Wave.
When American critics assess the French New Wave of the early sixties, it is more often than not in relation to their influence on Hollywood some ten years later. However, Claude Charbol’s 1960 effort, Les Bonnes Femmes, did not have that broad an American release. That makes such a comparison very difficult, so one is obliged to critique the film in a national context.
Les Bonnes Femmes was a financial disappointment for Claude Charbol, though he considers it his best work of the era. Unlike the Technicolor extravaganza of Godard’s Contempt, Charbol’s film is dark and gloomy. It has captured the seedy post war texture of Paris in a stark black and white reminiscent of Shirley Clarke’s The Connection or Martin Ritt’s Edge Of The City. Such authenticity lends a realistic credibility to the dramatic action, and perhaps even heightens the audiences’ investment. That said, Les Bonnes Femmes is a film of France as it was in the early sixties made for the French.
The narrative centers on four shop girls who believe themselves to be determined to find good men for husbands, despite the fact that as the film carries on their motives and aspirations evolve despite themselves. It is a film of desperation and romantic frustration, evidenced by one shop girl (played by Clothilde Joano) who allows her desperation to draw her into fatal disaster when she begins dating a sadistic motorcyclist.
The plot of Les Bonnes Femmes speaks as a splendid allegory for the cultural frustrations of France in the early sixties. The rise in political unrest, the new youth movements, an over arching sense of rebellion all seem to have similar effects on French society as do the romantic quests of the four shop girls become a frustrating and confusing journey for them. Charbol seems equally as concerned about the course of his nation as he does for the individual at the dawn of such turbulent times.