Breaking from the status quo in Entre Nous

Directed by Diane Kuris, Entre Nous (Between Us) serves as a wonderful example of the complexities that arise when choosing to stray from the status quo imposed by your loved ones and your community. (FEA 5/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Farah Elattar

The film stars Isabelle Huppert as “Lena Weber,” a Jewish refugee who marries a soldier in an attempt to avoid deportation during the Second World War. Miou Miou is “Madeleine,” an artist who, upon watching her lover die in her arms at the hands of the Resistance, meets and quickly marries an actor. Both women maintain their marriages after the end of the war, and meet in Lyon in 1952. Lena and her husband “Michel” (Guy Marchand) have a healthy but somewhat loveless marriage, with Michel quickly becoming a successful garage owner and mechanic. Their children are at the center of an otherwise dull marriage, and serve to fill that void. 

On the other hand, Madeleine and “Costa” (Jean-Pierre Bacri) seem to struggle more, as Costa fails at one business venture after another. Madeleine also loses interest in her son and struggles to parent and cope with his timidness. Due to their similar situations, the women find common ground, and slowly develop a deep emotional connection that often borders on romantic. Through their relationship, both women can empower one another and push each other to leave behind the things — and people — that hold them back.

Diane Kurys excels at showcasing the intensity and complexity of the characters’ relationships, while also maintaining a subtle, slice-of-life feel. There are no grandiose moments or declarations of love, only hints through dialogue and gesture, in a way much more similar to real-life than to Hollywood romance. Kurys often depicts the characters doing mundane tasks, which takes out the fairy-tale aspects of their lives and replaces them with mundane realities. This serves to bring out the issues that often mark Madeleine and Lena’s marriages. In Lena’s case, it is not one big moment, but a series of small moments that push her away from Michel. His constant dismissal of her desires and aspirations leads her to carve her own path and wipe out her dependency on him over time. In Madeleine’s case, it is much more obvious: Costa’s antics and failed quasi-business ventures drive her away. This strain on both marriages is depicted subtly, over time, in a way that does not overwhelm the viewer but settles slowly as the film progresses.

While Kurys’ restraint over evolving the relationship between Lena and Madeleine into romance may be outdated in 2020, the film is still an essential exploration of the intricacies of connections between women. Kurys really explores the depths that Lena and Madeleine are able to achieve — levels that never occur in their marriages. They find themselves comfortable with one another and build a foundation that relies on achievement and empowerment, rather than subversion and imbalance of power. The women find themselves helpless in their marriages, but find strength in one another. In the 21st century, this film stresses the importance of women being allies to one another.

Still subtly, Kurys deals with the isolation and discrimination that comes with choosing to lead an alternative lifestyle—a topic that remains relevant today. Lena and Madeleine found themselves alone and shunned from their community when they decide to embark on their journey together. Michel tries his best to keep Lena to himself and even calls her a “dyke” and an embarrassment to his kids, his family, and community. Madeleine’s parents beg Lena not to go near her. The two then find themselves very much alone, but together. While the film offers no right or wrong answer—showing the destruction the pair left behind by choosing their relationship—it leaves the viewer hopeful that they could endure, find themselves, and be satisfied with one another’s company. It is a reminder of the complexity of the choices we have to make and the sacrifices we have to endure in order to find what makes us happy. 

While outdated in some aspects, Entre Nous remains a staple of 1980s French cinema and is a must-watch for anyone looking for a film reflecting life’s many layers and obstacles.

© Farah Elattar (09/1/2020) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Lena Weber and Miou Miou in Entre Nous

Middle Photo: Poster for Entre Nous

Photo Credits: Rialto Pictures (2018) (USA) (theatrical) (reissue) (subtitled)

Q: Does Entre Nous pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! The film features many scenes between Madeleine and Lena discussing their innermost thoughts. 

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Farah joined the FF2 Media team in January of 2018. She is a Philosophy major at Rutgers University with a minor in Women & Gender Studies, and a concentration on social justice, made possible through the Leadership Scholars Program at the Institute for Women’s Leadership. As an Egyptian woman, she sees film as a very important medium, through which the voices of the silent can be expressed. She believes that film can, and will, play an important role in changing global perspectives on problematic areas such as the Middle East which is often viewed as nothing but a conflict zone.
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