Margaux Hartmann (L’Étreinte) – French Film Festival UK 2021- Film Review
Emmanuelle Béart captivates in Margaux Hartmann as the eponymous Margaux in this tale of self re-discovery which is an intriguing watch for its focus on such re-invention during the mature stages of life. It is refreshing within this context because the limitations and societal expectations on a woman beyond her forties are fleshed out sensitively without resorting to lazy stereotypes. Therefore the depiction of Margaux equally recaptures her youth whilst attempting to regain her identity as a recent widow. Béart provides a nuanced, relatable performance in this context whilst embracing the fears of the unknown and the awakening of hidden desires.
Whilst Margaux Hartmann is the directorial debut for a male director, Ludovic Bergery, there is the impression of an intention for the female gaze to be reflected accurately. As such, Margaux’s attempts to re-immerse herself within her new life as a widow are presented delicately with lingering camera angles and long pauses capturing that hesitation to re-connect with a past life forgotten as Margaux re-enrols in studies as a mature student. Interestingly, whilst Béart’s previous roles may have highlighted her natural beauty, there is a tendency to downplay this aspect in the film as Margaux is often seen wearing an ill fitting coat with a tendency to cling on to its sleeves. This is seemingly indicative of an unconscious desire to hold on to past memories of her married life and represents those stages of grief empathetically. It is impressive that the film does not over explain such emotions with Bergery trusting Beart’s expressive features to convey the doubts and fears.
Margaux’s need to hold on to those past memories may also be connected to the film’s French title, L’Étreinte, meaning embrace. The embrace may represent that warm sensation of Margaux’s memories or the warm glow of light in which the cinematography surrounds her. However, the title could also reference a need for Margaux to embrace the future and therefore induces further insight. Turning to Margaux’s decision to undertake German literature classes, this may be a device that provides her with the opportunity for enjoyment in her life once more but equally under Bergery’s direction, it is a connection to the past and Margaux’s family background.
In this sense, Margaux Hartmann is certainly not a re-creation of films such as Gloria Bell or Stella Got Her Grove Back with a carefree, confident middle-aged woman as Margaux’s social encounters are, in moments, extremely excruciating to watch. Beart’s performance is mesmerising and identifiable, without excessive sentimentality, during Margaux’s angst, which also emphasises the realistic interpretation of ageing and the ability to reconcile oneself with being alone and unfamiliar with current social practices.
Margaux’s character development is expressed by Bergery with a slow, tender reflection of the gradual changes within Margaux. Surprisingly, the film, in many ways, resembles a coming-of-age tale for a middle aged woman. Margaux, seems like that naive teenager as she is maladroit and nervous when considering the prospect of romance with the camera’s long takes, close ups and silent scenes emphasising that hesitation. The film depicts the difficult process of finding friends to identify with, irrespective of your stage in life, as Margaux is amongst younger peers, whilst studying. The disparity between Margaux and the younger students under Bergery’s direction is also highlighted subtly emphasising the female gaze within French cinema.
Béart’s chemistry as Margaux amongst the younger students is an interesting development as the film demonstrates that exchange of ideas and experiences with some laugh out loud moments. It is endearing to watch Margaux eventually transform from her introverted persona, which is also notable by a subtle adjustment with her style of dress. It is also touching to watch a genuine friendship develop between Margaux and one of the other students in the group, who may also be considered an outsider due to his lifestyle preferences. The film demonstrates that true friendships can transcend age differences and societal constructs but it is not sufficiently brave to explore those concepts to the full degree. As such, the superficiality of direction employed in such crucial emotional moments between friends, considered as outliers by others, feels disappointingly clichéd.
Margaux Hartmann is an enjoyable watch as a character study of a woman attempting to regain control of her life and her identity after a traumatic life event. Béart provides that emotional range as Margaux and whilst the film may not be revolutionary, the tenderness of the filming of the characters ensures that it is a watchable journey.