François and Thérèse are happily married with two young children. During the week Francois works as a carpenter for his uncle and on the weekends the young family enjoys exploring the nearby countryside. Their life is full of bonheur (happiness) , perhaps even idyllic.
But then François meets Émilie to whom he is instantly attracted. It’s not long before they being an affair, even though she knows that he is married. François seems to believe that his affair with Émilie is not subtracting from what he has with his wife. He doesn’t love Thérèse any less. Instead, his love with Émilie only adds to his overall happiness. But when, he finally confesses to his wife about the relationship and his viewpoint, tragedy ensues.
With the exception of a Netlix series I’m still in the middle of watching, my last couple of foreign film choices have not been favorites. Le Bonheur is very highly rated by IMDb reviewers which is one of the reasons, I wanted to watch it. Many of these reviews touch on the historical, technical and artistic aspects of the film. But as solely a film fan not a film critic, I tend to judge movies based on how I feel about them. And of course as the title of my website states, I am a story enthusiast. So the story is usually the most important aspect of a film for me.
First, let me just say, Le Bonheur is one of the most visually beautiful films I’ve seen. The scenes are filled with vibrant color and light (which are two things I love). I can almost smell the wildflowers and feel the brush of the wind on my skin when the family is cavorting in the country.
There is also the fact that François and Thérèse are so obviously happy, not only in love with each other, but with their children. Their two tots are utterly adorable.
Though this film is beautiful and the family charming, the story left much to be desired. It took a while for the story line of Le Bonheur to appear. For a while I felt like I was watching home videos of a young family just enjoying their life without any plot or timeline. Looking back from the end, I realize the director was most likely setting the scene for a contented family in order to show in stark contrast the effects of François’ choices. It isn’t until he takes up with Émilie, that the film felt like it adopted a pace that was going somewhere. Even then, it seemed longer to me than it’s 79 minute running time.
The main problem for me with Le Bonheur is that I found the story utterly repugnant. My personal beliefs and mindset cannot conceive of adultery (or cheating) being in any way acceptable. Though François explains his point of view, I cannot agree with it. He genuinely believes that his love affair with Émilie is additional happiness to what he already shares with his wife and children. I found this viewpoint either selfish or very naïve, especially with the tragedy that results from it. What is worse, is that he himself suffers no consequences. He just blithely continues on with his life, suffering no true grief, guilt or remorse for what his actions have wrought.
At the beginning of Le Bonheur, I thought François was a sweet, loving, dedicated husband and father. As the film progressed, I found myself shocked and appalled by him. For me, he starts as a hero and ends as a villain, even though he never exemplifies any real villain tendencies.
Although, I fully appreciated the beauty of Le Bonheur, the story ruined it for me, so I can’t fully recommend it.