Adultery, sexual innuendoes and sexual suggestions by children, violence, and few obscenities and profanities
The French film C’EST LA VIE (“That’s life”) combines excellent photography with a subtle exploration of, unfortunately, immoral human relationships. Lena and her daughters, ten and thirteen, enjoy the Brittany coast while her husband, Michel, minds the store back in the city. Restless, Lena, though, has been carrying on an intense love affair with a 25-year-old artist who lives on the beach. The artist, Jean-Claude, uses Lena, then drops her and moves on to new conquests.
Much of the film centers on the tangled relationship between Lena and Michel. When he’s absent, Lena slips out to meet her lover in restaurants and on the beach. The girls are oblivious to their mother’s secret life until Frederique, the oldest, sees her mother ride off on Jean-Claude’s cycle one night. After that, Frederique becomes quiet and withdrawn.
A short time later, Lena goes apartment hunting in Paris prior to divorcing Michel. Michel turns up unexpectedly while she’s gone, rummages through her things and discovers Jean-Claude’s love note to Lena. Enraged at the discovery, when Lena shows up in her new car, Michel climbs in and rams it into a tree.
A terrible scene follows as Michel confronts Lena. Attacking her physically, he slams her into a mirror and calls her a “whore” and a “slut.” The two fall on the floor and Michel repeatedly bangs her head against the floor while screaming at her hysterically. Frederique grabs a piece of the broken glass and presses it to her throat yelling, “Stop! Or I’ll kill myself!” Finally, Michel stops, but Lena gathers the children and their belongings and moves to her sister’s beach house.
A short time later, in a heart-rending scene, little Sophia slowly and deliberately breaks off her doll’s arms and legs, then jerks off its head in a graphic demonstration of her inner turmoil and frustration. In another poignant scene, Sophia gathers shells and remarks to her friend, “If Daddy doesn’t know where we are, I’ll leave shells behind so he can find us.”
At the film’s end, Frederique reads a letter addressed to her father. She tells him about school and friends and that she misses him. As she walks by herself on the deserted beach, the camera captures her loneliness and isolation.
Although C’EST LA VIE focuses on adultery and contains sexual innuendoes, even involving children, it is an attempt to portray the fragmentation of the family and alienation of man. Lena and Michel fail at communication because of their inability to listen to and understand each other. The girls, too, reflect their frustration and hostility by suppressing their emotions and withholding their feelings. Even the joyous, carefree beach scenes contrast with the misery resident within these lives.
The flaws in this otherwise well made film involve a few scenes with children and sexual innuendo. For instance, Sophia, the 10-year old, and her little boy cousin have been put to bed together, and they giggle over taking off their pajamas. Other scenes involve a 13-year-old boy leading the younger children to a “bad” house where women are kept in chains. He also encourages them to try smoking, which although perhaps typical of children’s desire for new experiences and adventures, sets a poor example for them. In contrast, the Bible teaches that “from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2).
In the final analysis, however, Christians know that any relationship, marriage or otherwise, must be focused on Christ. As the Psalmist advocates: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (127:1). Of course, anyone with a modicum of common sense realizes that extramarital affairs do not provide a solution to a troubled marriage, but tend to destroy it as trust disintegrates. However, the Good News is that the Lord can provide answers to any situation.