Monday, May 12, 2008

La Banquière (The Woman Banker)

This Francis Girod film is simple, light and very cynic that tells the story of a very strong woman that went from rags to riches only to fall hard because she became a threat to men in many ways.

Set in the so-called French “les annees folles” (or crazy years –between the two wars) tells about very unconventional Emma Eckhert (Romy Schneider) that from being a hat shop clerk becomes a very successful (yet pitiless) banker thanks to the help of her lover Camille (Noëlle Chatelet) millions and her successful playing with the stock exchange. But when she decides to share her wealth with her customers and gives an 8% interest rate while the other bankers give 1%, she becomes the banker to beat and that’s exactly what Horace Vanister (Jean-Louis Trintignant )does with the help of upper financial authorities. She discovering that she likes men and falling for Rémy Lecoudray (Daniel Mesguich) only marks her downfall.

As a film probably today is not easy to watch as recalls French cinema of a different time, but it is considered one of Girard’s best and a classic within French cinema. One of the many things you will find here is a special care to set and costumes details that really look and feel like France in les annees folles.

I have been wanting to see this film because one reason, I’m a huge fan of Romy Schneider since I was a little kid and was exposed to her Sissi movies and that’s a long-long time ago. So, do not be surprised if I say that I liked a lot this movie mainly because Schneider’s performance is quite interesting, as this is a portrait of a strong character when in most of her movies she portrayed fragile characters. Besides she really has a great performance here that won her a César for Best Actress.

Most interesting was to find that the ficticious Emma Eckhert is a thin disguise for Marthe Hanau a real life banker who defrauded French financial markets in the 1930s. Reading about Hanau I found many similarities with the fictional character like her hunger strike and the claims that she could return all the money, among many others. Also there is a book about this movie that is called “La Banquière Sur un scénario de Georges Conchon Récit de Jean Noli et Eric Chanel” that unfortunately there are no references in the net, but found that explains all the relation between history (Marthe Hanau) and the creation of the fictional character. For those that read French here is an excerpt from the book.

"Ainsi est né le scénario du film de Francis Girod : "La banquière". L'histoire était trop belle, trop riche en rebondissements, en péripéties d'amour, de haine , de mort pour la laisser aux seuls cinéastes, pour n'en pas faire un livre. C'est pourquoi nous avons demandé à un écrivain, Jean Noli et à un économiste, Eric Chanel, de raconter à leur manière cet exceptionnel destin de femme qui donne à l'entre-deux-guerres une image nouvelle : derrière la bonhomie des banquets radicaux sourd, la violence."

Another outstanding fact about this 1980 movie is that it has many well-known great French actors that were already sacred in French cinema like Jean-Lois Trintignant, Marie-France Pisier, Claude Brasseur, among others and two actors that not only look very young but obviously were in their way to become very honored and famous: Daniel Auteuil and Thierry Lhermite. Trintignant’s performance is spectacular especially when he plays a non-likable character.

Well, yes this is a lesbian interest film, as the main character is lesbian (until she finds she likes one man…), there are some lesbian scenes (mainly in the beginning) and there are two or three (the woman in the photo) lovers shown within the story. But the story is not centered on this situation and I feel that depicts the character sexual preference as one of the many threats to men, which they tolerate because the character has power as a successful banker. Just check the beginning when she was not famous, that shows even people in the street rejecting her for her sexual preference. So, it is not a very nice portrayal of a powerful woman and as far as I could read about Marthe Hanau she was not particularly lesbian, consequently it was added by the screenplay to perhaps justify why the character was so strong and successful, as actually the whole character resembles more a man than a woman. Still, there is one shot that is worth the whole movie, to be able to see Romy Schneider dressed in a white tuxedo!

Anyway, I believe that most that like the genre will not necessarily like this film, but if you are a Romy Schneider fan –like me-, if you care about classic French films and if you enjoy French period dramas with an outstanding cast then this is a film that you have to watch.


P.S. As a comment I have included a detailed synopsis of the story in the film that totally spoils the movie, but I wanted to save it here. Is in French.

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