In association with Glasgow Film Festival 2017
The friendship between Pauline or Pomme (Valérie Mairesse) and Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) starts out with the former giving money to the latter to travel from Paris to Zurich in order to get a safe abortion. Abortion and birth, or family planning more generally, prove to be a recurring theme in Agnès Varda’s feminist landmark One Sings, The Other Doesn’t.
Set against a backdrop of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, the film explores a surprising yet wonderful friendship between two women, and the connection between women in general. While Suzanne is “part of a family of women” in a factory in rural France, Pomme feels the support and care of the other women in her hostel in Amsterdam, who are all there to get an abortion. And while Pomme and three other women are travelling every town and village in France, singing songs on market squares and in town halls about owning the right to their bodies, Suzanne sets up a family planning consultancy and holds meetings with women in a sunny and pleasant French city.
While these themes of female rights, strength and support are incredibly important, the film itself has an astonishing quality too. Every scene set in Paris, in the desolate countryside of France, the desert of Iran or the canals of Amsterdam, devoid of tourists, is like a frozen painting. With beautiful colours and a melancholic feel, as well as a close attention to detail, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is breath-taking.
Agnès Varda’s interest in documentary realism is obvious in this film, with some parts being clearly staged, while others seem more natural and include non-actors. While it sounds like this would increase the believability and connection to the characters and events portrayed, this is not always the case. Where is, for example, the emotion when the two friends meet each other again after ten years? Similarly, the function of the narrating voice, suddenly occurring after the first part, seems to prevent the audience from emotional involvement. This narrator describes what happens, rather than letting the cinematography, music and themes speak for themselves. Yet still, One Sings, The Other Doesn’t is a beautiful piece of cinema, a distinct experimental style merged with important social commentary and fascinating characters.