For Americans, there may be a ring of poetry in the title of Moshe Mizrahi's new film, "La Vie Continue," but the translation, "Life Goes On," comes closer to the essential banality of the story he is spinning.
Like his Academy Award-winning "Madame Rosa," which served mainly as a pretext for contemplating the spectacular ravages that time had wreaked upon Simone Signoret, Mizrahi's latest provides an excuse for gazing at the grave and subtle beauty of French actress Annie Girardot. She is in virtually every frame, as a middle-aged woman from the middle class whose husband dies suddenly of a massive heart attack, leaving her to carry on with three children.
Presumably, this import, currently at the K-B Janus, wants to recognize, if not celebrate, the unexceptional nature of tragedy, and the quiet perseverance with which a modest woman puts her life back together. But by sticking so resolutely to the pedestrian, it frequently threatens to disappear between the cracks in the Paris sidewalks, where a fair amount of the action takes place.
Once comfortably ensconced in the routines of married life, Jeanne (Girardot) must go out and find a job, cope with overly solicitous relatives and assume the responsibilities of raising a family, although from all evidence her children are models of tact and good behavior. Mostly, she must learn how to sleep alone in a double bed.
Eventually, she gets work in a dress shop, run by a benevolent Jew (Pierre Dux) who has known loss himself, instinctively understands her grief and lets her name her salary. She also meets the affable owner of a repair shop (Jean-Pierre Cassel), whose young wife has dumped him. They take the children for autumnal walks in the woods, embrace in the rain on the Place de la Concorde and snuggle up together before the TV set. For a while, it looks as if romance will bloom again in Jeanne's life. But then, the repairman's wife comes back, as anyone with a shred of ESP (Experience in Soapy Plots) can predict. Jeanne is left once again to her own devices.
It's only in the movies, she explains to her angelic son, that the girl gets the guy in the end.
Whatever dimensions there are in this slender tale come from Girardot, who fills up the prescribed limits of her role with a quiet strength that is not without its gallantry. Hers is a lined, slightly tired face, but the honesty of her emotions turns it into a moving, and ultimately noble face. To the outside world, Jeanne wants to appear in control at all times, which makes the real conflict in this film between Jeanne and herself, not between Jeanne and the other characters. Girardot depicts the struggle with a rare sensitivity.
After Jeanne's husband has been taken to the hospital, the camera picks up her face in the corridor. A doctor is bringing her the bad news. Not a word is spoken, but the transition in Girardot's eyes from expectation and hope to confusion and bewilderment says it all.
Mizrahi has a distinct penchant for the naturalistic slice of life, as it unfolds in the largely drab world of ordinary folk. That world is not necessarily undramatic. But in "La Vie Continue," he has definitely cut the slices too thin.