Resilience is a needed character quality that functions as a stay against the fantasies of youth and the eventual shocks and jolts of life and love. It is a helpful survival skill. While it cannot drive our problems away, it can help us bounce back from hardships and reframe the way we do things in the future. Those lacking in this inner resourcefulness are often battered and bruised by their own high expectations and the unfairness of life. That is the major theme in this adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's first novel.
After spending five years at a convent school, Jeanne Le Perthius des Vauds (Judith Chemla) returns home to the family chateau. There she works with her father, Baron Simon-Jacques (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), in the garden and takes walks with her mother, Baroness Adelaide (Yolande Moreau). Jeanne's sunny disposition serves her well as she communes with the beauty of the natural world or playfully frolics with her one companion, Rosalie (Nina Meurisse), the maid she grew up with.
Things look even brighter for her after she falls in love with Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), a handsome young man. He is an aristocrat but lacks the wealth needed for this kind of marriage in the first half of the 1800s. Nonetheless, Jeanne's parents back her decision to wed. They and their daughter have no clue about the nasty, selfish, and domineering side to Julien's personality. Soon things begin to go badly for Jeanne. She is doubly wounded when her husband has sex with Rosalie. Although Julien repents of his adultery and a priest advises her to forgive her husband, Jeanne cannot bring herself to do so. Instead she develops an addictive relationship with her son Paul.
This ambitious adaptation of de Maupassant's novel by director Stephane Brize (The Measure of a Man) covers 27 years in Jeanne's life as she struggles with the dark clouds which come to dominate her days following the betrayal of her husband, the departure of her one-and-only friend, and the greediness of her beloved son who constantly needs money to pay off his debts. Almost always the victim in her relationships, Jeanne summons a small measure of resilience when she proclaims at the end: "Life, you see, is never as good or as bad as one thinks."