How to be a Good Wife Review – Captivating Performances, Charming, Whimsical

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How To Be a Good Wife presents a delightful dramatic comedy as the perfect wife and headmistress of a finishing school is suddenly alone, her world upended and she, left to manage, is unexpectedly reunited with her first love.

The film, which opened the AFI European Union Film Festival, begins at the Van der Beck School of Housekeeping and Good Manners in Alsace, France, where we meet the headmistress Paulette, played by Juliette Binoche, Robert, her husband, played by Francois Berleand, her sister-in-law, Gilberte, played by Yolande Moreau, and the formidable, ex-resistance fighter, Sister Marie-Therese played by Noémie Lvovsky.

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The incoming class of fifteen students, nearly half of the previous year, will each be taught the range of skills necessary to be a good wife from keeping an immaculate home, culinary magic, managing the family's finances and other matrimonial duties.

Throughout this first act we meet the girls, Annie Fuchs, played by Marie Zabukovec, Albane Des-deux-Ponts, played by Anamaria Vartolomei, Yvette Ziegler, played by Lily Taieb, and Corinne Schwartz, played by Pauline Briand, no longer blind to the world of change they talk of feminists and discriminations while understanding their futures are no longer set-in yesterday's cultural stone. They long for love, adventure, freedom, and are still encumbered with duty, restraint, and obedience.

As change is sweeping the world, the ill winds do not pass our countryside villa and suddenly Robert Van der Beck, the patriarch and founder, dies leaving his family mourning his passing until they find out he has been loose with his morals and money leaving them penniless.

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After Paulette is forced to take charge she is suddenly liberated. She shocks those around her with her purchase of slacks, and as fate is fickle, her late husband's banker, Andre Grunveld, played by Edouard Baer, whom she was sure died in the war, was her first love.

Now, the winds of change are fanning the flames of hidden passion and she unable to quiet the longing as Andre Grunveld yearns to rekindle their romance and refuses to accept her continual protests as anything other the minor obstacles to which he will overcome with persistence.

After the liberation sweeps through the school, with Paulette, changing the structure of everyone's existence, the school becomes the feature of a Home Economics program and the girls are invited to Paris to compete in a televised housekeeping competition. 

The film is charming and presents with authenticity what once a staple for many young girls throughout the world and especially, as we are told, in France.

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Juliette Binoche, Yolande Moreau, and Noémie Lvovsky each capture the nuances of the character as the film moves through the range of emotions. The immaculate, perfection the lonely heart, the lost, the liberated, daring, free. They are captivating in their portrayals.

How to be a Good Wife layers the balance of dependence verses independence, of love, and societal norms verses the freedoms that the revolutionary 1960s brought to the world.

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The ensemble cast of strong females leads portray women with whimsical personalities, over-the-top moments when love, however inconvenient, shows up at the intersection of caution and abandon, and those resigned to a belief only to be reawakened with hope, and the formidable accept the challenge of the ever-changing world even as it encroaches at the gates.

Directed by Martin Provost who has created a three-act masterpiece of fun and frivolity. A Charming, playful comedy. See it.

How to be a Good Wife can be screened at the AFI European Film Festival. The festival can be accessed via this link:

Year - 2020

Runtime - 109 minutes

Country - France, Belgium

Language - French with English subtitles

Director - Martin Provost

Screenwriter - Martin Provost, Séverine Werba

Producer - Serge Hayat, François Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne

Cast - Juliette Binoche, Yolande Moreau, Noémie Lvovsky, Édouard Baer, Francois Berleand, Marie Zabukovec, Anamaria Vartolomei, Lily Taieb, Pauline Briand

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