It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I'm not sure what "French Provincial" finally adds up to, but along the way to wherever it's going it provides a lot of scenes that are fun for their own sake. It's as if the director, Andre Techine, has such a talent for pure cinema that he can't be bothered with such mundane matters as continuity, form or exposition. It's not that I minded - it's just that anyone trying to make perfect sense of the movie is going to end up frustrated.
Techine's story loosely (very loosely) involves two young women who marry into a successful provincial family and gradually take over its reins. One of them is Berthe (Jeanne Moreau), who begins as a seamstress and ends up managing the family's factory and negotiating with its striking laborers. The other is Regina (Marie-France Pisier), who marries an American after World War II, goes off to live in the States and returns towards the movie's end with an infusion of Yank capital.
The movie's time span covers most of the 20th Century, starting with the original arrival from Spain of the family's grandfather. But the best scenes take place in the 1930s, as Berthe first has an affair with one of the sons and then, after a very testy interview with her future mother-in-law, marries into the family. She plays a very proud, private character, and Techine is good at giving her things to do so she won't have to reveal her feelings verbally.
An example and one of the movie's finest moments: Moreau has just been lectured to by the mother. The secret affair has been discovered, and the mother doesn't want the seamstress to spend any more time with her son. Moreau returns to her tiny apartment. As the camera regards her in one long take, Moreau breaks two fresh eggs into a bowl. Adds a pinch of salt, a little pepper, some herbs. Decides, as I recall, against cheese.