It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"For A Woman" tells a story that is pretty much fraught with both romantic and political intrigue and it is therefore a little surprising to report that the end result is itself not especially intriguing. This is a bit of a shame because this is obviously a deeply personal story for French filmmaker Diane Kurys (best known for her 1983 breakthrough "Entre Nous") but she never quite manages to generate the amount of excitement required to make anything memorable out of the fairly familiar material.
As the film opens in 1991, filmmaker Anne (Sylvie Testud) and her older sister Tania (Julie Ferrier), still reeling from the death of their mother three months earlier, are visiting their ailing father when Anne comes across a suitcase belonging to her mother containing photographs and letters that force her to reassess everything she knew, or thought she knew, about her parents. Fascinated by the story they tell, she begins to transform them into a screenplay that winds up forming the bulk of the film.
The story proper opens in 1945 as Ukrainian couple Michel (Benoit Magimel) and Lena (Melanie Thierry) are settling in Lyon and preparing to have their first child. The two were incarcerated in the same prison camp during the war, and when Michel, a former Foreign Legionnaire and a member of the Communist Party, was granted his freedom, he insisted that Lena, who he had never actually met, was his fiancee and needed to go with him. Grateful to him for saving her life, Lena agreed to marry him but while the two care for each other, there is a palpable mismatch in the tenor of their affections for each other—he genuinely loves her while she feels more of a sense of obligation to him than any real passion.
Two years later, Michel is running a small tailor shop and attending local Communist Party meetings while Lena is in the apartment upstairs raising Tania and trying to stave off an overwhelming sense of boredom. That all changes with the unexpected arrival of Jean (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the brother that Michel had assumed had died long ago. As it turns out, Jean joined the Red Army and one of his duties now is to clandestinely track down Nazis and collaborators and bring them to justice. At first, the reunion is happy enough but tensions between the two brothers begin to arise—Michel's idealized view of communism doesn't exactly jibe with Jean's real-life experiences under it—and things become more complicated when a different sort of tension begins to develop between Jean and Lena.