"All beginnings are lovely," a French proverb reminds us. This is especially true in marriages where couples start out with vibrant attraction and devotion to one another. But time and circumstances can stifle that initial magic and leave husbands and wives moving in different directions. This is what happens in In the Shadow of Women, directed by the post-New wave French director Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers). The film is shot in black-and-white and set in Paris, a city notorious for its alluring romantic settings.
Manon (Clotilde Courau) lives with Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) in a ramshackle apartment with an improvised gas stove. The landlord is appalled at the messiness of the place and threatens to kick them out if they don't get their act together. Pierre and Manon are working together on a documentary about the French Resistance.
Bored with the filming and with Manon's neediness, he begins a strictly sexual affair with Elisabeth (Lena Paugam) who works at a film archive. We learn through the narration of Louis Garrel that Manon lives in the shadow of her husband; her mother advises her that "No man is worth sacrificing your life for." We also are told that Pierre is convinced that a husband has the right to have sex outside of marriage. But when he learns that Manon is involved with another man, he goes ballistic and ends their relationship.
In the Shadow of Women can be seen as a companion piece to director Garrel's Jealousy, another drama about infidelity shot in black-and white. There he focuses on those who relationships are characterized by what Louise Bernikow has called "tumbleweed feeling, drifting along, disconnected, surrounded by empty space."
In the United States, up to 40% of marriages endure the pain of a cheating partner. Afterwards, reviving intimacy, acknowledging feelings, and rebuilding trust takes plenty of hard inner work. In the Shadow of Women reveals the pain and confusion of those whose marriages have been rocked by affairs. In its closing scenes, this sturdy French drama also points to the way that couples can heal the wounds of betrayal and begin again.