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Film review: Story of Women

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Before she knows it, Marie has started a business and is performing amateur abortions for local women on a fairly regular basis. Later, she meets and becomes friends with a local hooker (Marie Trintignant) and before long Marie is renting rooms to prostitutes.

All this while her husband is off fighting in the war and Marie is trying to raise their two young children, who are understandably becoming rather confused about why their lifestyle is becoming rapidly more affluent and - the older boy in particular - wondering what Mommy is doing behind locked doors.

To complicate matters, Marie's husband (Francois Cluzet) returns home from the front, shell-shocked and unable to hold a job. He becomes a kind of househusband and turns his back on his wife's secret business affairs. She in turn rejects him, tells him she doesn't love him and eventually takes a lover.

Meanwhile, the atrocities of the war provide a backdrop of confusion and dread. And perhaps the most confused person of all is Marie.

"Story of Women" is quite remarkable in its depiction of Marie's circumstances, in that co-writer/director Claude Chabrol ("Le Boucher," "Violette") makes no judgments about her actions. Marie's story is presented in a straight-forward matter-of-fact manner, though her character admittedly is less than sympathetic. Nonetheless, the audience is compelled to feel for her - especially when tragedy strikes in the final act.

Huppert is perfect in the lead, as a woman who is openly selfish, who becomes greedy as the process seems easier and who seems to be as much a naive victim as a victimizer.

However, as a metaphor for the Holocaust - the action takes place from 1941 through 1943 - the film gains particular power, especially when the state's hypocrisy comes into play in the end.

The film is not rated, but would doubtless be in PG or PG-13 territory for its subject matter, the discreet depiction of abortion, brief partial nudity and some profanity.

- "TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR YOU" is a bit less successful, but still intriguing - more for what it attempts than what it accomplishes. And the three main stars are perfect in fascinating character roles.

Gerard Depardieu, who seems to be in every other exported French movie (the 40-year-old actor has made more than 60 films in 20 years) is a well-to-do car dealer whose wife is the beautiful, aloof Carole Bouquet (perhaps best-remembered for her first film, Luis Bunuel's last, "That Obscure Object of Desire," as well as the James Bond thriller "For Your Eyes Only").

Bouquet is still an object of desire, so much so that that all their male acquaintances blatantly lust after her. But the film's irony is that Depardieu is having an affair with his temporary fill-in secretary, frumpy, overweight and undeniably charming Josiane Balasko.

Balasko lives with her boyfriend (Francois Cluzet again), a self-absorbed writer, and falls hard for Depardieu. When Bouquet discovers that Depardieu is cheating - and especially when she meets Balasko - she becomes quite despaired.

The performances here by Balasko, Bouquet and Depardieu are mesmerizing and quite convincing, and the film is laced with liberal amounts of offbeat humor, in particular a running gag about Schubert music, which provides the perfect climactic punchline.

But writer-director Bertrand Blier, who has also given us "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," "Beau-Pere" and "My Best Friend's Girl," among others, has apparently been watching too many Jean-Luc Godard movies. "Too Beautiful for You" is loaded with camera tricks, flashbacks and flashforwards and such confusing elements as having Bouquet play another secondary role in the film.

His artificial, forced attempts at an artsy atmosphere nearly drown a story that would have been more effective if told in as straight-forward a manner as Chabrol's "Story of Women."

Still, the stars make this one worth a look. And Balasko is a particularly enchanting find.

"Too Beautiful for You" is rated R for sexual content, profanity and vulgarity.