François Truffaut’s The Woman Next Door is a somber, subtly disturbing film about the beauty and destructive toll of passion. It is a tragic story chronicled through the dispassionate, reverent gaze of Madame Odile Jouve (Veronique Silver), the kind and enigmatic proprietor of a tennis club, who was crippled from a suicide attempt after a failed love affair. Bernard Coudray (Gerard Depardieu) is an unassuming, married navigation trainer whose life turns into upheaval when a former lover, Mathilde Bauchard (Fanny Ardant), unwittingly rents a neighboring house with her husband. Still affected by the scars of their unreconciled past, they reluctantly resume their relationship. Similar to Stephen Fleming in Louis Malle’s Damage, the tragedy of the film lies in their inability to recover from their self-destructive affair and move on with their lives. When the Bauchards decide to go on a belated honeymoon, Bernard flies into a jealous rage and attacks her. After a prolonged separation from a distant Bernard, Mathilde suffers a nervous breakdown. The Woman Next Door is a deeply unsettling portrait of obsession and madness.
Truffaut juxtaposes extensive incongruities throughout the film in order to illustrate the duality of passion. Madame Jouve’s narration seems to create objective distance. However, as a wounded survivor of a consuming love, she is, perhaps, the only one who can understand their story. Chronologically, we first meet Madame Jouve with a backdrop of a tennis match, then the camera zooms out to reveal that she has a prosthetic leg. The Coudrays hear a pair of violent cats one evening and describe them as either fighting or mating. Mathilde submits a bloody, graphic illustration for publication in a children’s book. Inevitably, the love that binds Bernard and Mathilde together destroys them. The Woman Next Door is an elegant, brooding film that resonates with the haunting weight of profound love and inevitable tragedy.
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