Cast & Crew
François, a young carpenter, lives a happy, uncomplicated life with his wife Thérèse, a seamstress, and their two small children, Gisou and Pierrot, in the Paris suburb of Fontenay. On weekends he delights in taking his family on picnics in the nearby woods. One day at Vincennes he meets Emilie, a clerk in the local post office. Their first few casual encounters gradually develop into a passionate affair, unencumbered by guilt. This new and different love adds to François' happiness, and he becomes more gentle, relaxed, and tender with Thérèse. Emilie accepts the fact that François loves his wife also. One day he tries to explain to Thérèse the change that has come over him. Although he assures her that his new relationship only increases his joy at being a husband and father, Thérèse is unable to understand. She quietly submits to his lovemaking one more time and then drowns herself. François mourns his wife's death for a long time and no longer visits Emilie. Eventually, however, he is drawn back to her, and they resume their former relationship. She accepts the two children as her own and joins the family on picnics, and one day François makes her his wife.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Le Bonheur on the surface appears to tell a fairly straightforward story. Francois, a carpenter living in a suburban village, is blissfully married to lovely blonde Therese, and they have two well-behaved young children. When Francois meets Emilie and begins an affair with her, his happiness only increases. "Happiness works by addition," he tells Emilie. Noticing his joyfulness during one of the family's country outings, his wife questions him about it. He tells her about Emilie, explaining that the relationship is no threat to their family, that he has more than enough happiness to satisfy everyone. Therese appears to accept the situation, but a cloud comes over the family's seemingly perfect existence.
"I don't think I've ever worked so quickly. I wrote it in exactly three days," Varda later recalled. "I wrote the film fast and shot it fast, like the vivid brightness of our short-lived summers." The film's visual design was inspired by the light-splashed colors and images of the Impressionist painters, starting with the iconic closeup of a sunflower that opens the film. She even includes a scene in which Jean Renoir's 1959 film, Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe, which is both a satire and a tribute to the Manet painting of the same name, plays on a television. At the same time, Varda noted that "Impressionist paintings emanate such melancholy, though they depict scenes of everyday happiness." She describes her vision for the film: "I imagined a summer peach with its perfect colors, and inside there is a worm."
Jean-Claude Drouot -- then the star of a "Robin Hood"-like French television series, Thierry La Fronde -- and his real-life wife Claire played Francois and Therese in Le Bonheur, with their own children playing the movie couple's children. Reminiscing about the film at the time of its restoration in 2006, Drouot, who had been married to Claire since 1960, said "I believe the film actually helped us as a couple, as a family. One makes the choice of denying oneself."
In interviews, Varda has said that she set out to understand "What is the meaning of happiness, this need for happiness, this aptitude for happiness? What is this unnamable and slightly monstrous thing?" But she has steadfastly refused to explain the film, allowing viewers to put their own interpretations on it. Many critics at the time found it disturbing at best, and amoral at worst. A.H. Weiler's review in the New York Times was typical: "At once joyful and moving but crucially immature, disturbing and tragic.... a seeming idyll sheathed in irony, [it] is obvious and tender, irresponsible and shocking and continuously provocative.... blithely flouts moral values and Hollywood conventions but, nevertheless, constantly captivates the eye and mind, if not the heart."
Le Bonheur became a succes de scandale all over the world, playing for nine months in Argentina and a year in Japan. The film cemented Varda's reputation as an important filmmaker of wide-ranging interests, equally adept at narrative film and documentary, and she remained active well into her eighties. Nevertheless, she has never achieved the kind of fame and acclaim that many of her New Wave colleagues enjoyed.
Over the years the confusion that critics expressed about Le Bonheur persists. Does Varda seem to be supporting Francois's claim that he can provide perfect happiness to both women? Or is the film a commentary about the impossibility of happiness? Made in a pre-feminist era, is it a feminist film or an anti-feminist one? Film scholar T. Jefferson Kline, in his introduction to a collection of Varda's interviews, thinks that "her film is intended to provoke a series of moral and psychological questions rather than tell a satisfying 'moral' story. It is perhaps this tendency that has best characterized Varda's cinema and may be the reason she has never reached a larger 'popular' audience."
Director: Agnes Varda
Producer: Mag Bodard
Screenplay: Agnes Varda
Cinematography: Claude Beausoleil, Jean Rabier
Editor: Janine Verneau
Costume Design: Claude Francois
Production Design: Hubert Monloup
Music: Jean-Michel Defaye
Principal Cast: Jean-Claude Drouot (Francois Chevalier), Claire Drouot (Therese Chevalier), Olivier Drouot (Pierrot Chevalier), Sandrine Drouot (Gisou Chevalier), Marie-France Boyer (Emilie Savignard), Marc Eyraud (Francois's brother)
by Margarita Landazuri
Opened in Paris in February 1965. Also released in the United States as Happiness. Mozart selections include: the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major (K.452); Music for Two Pianos; a movement from an uncompleted symphony; the Fugue in C Minor for Piano, Four Hands (K.426); and the Adagio and Fugue in C-Minor for String Orchestra (K.546).
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival.
Released in United States May 23, 1966
Released in United States Summer May 23, 1965
Released in United States May 23, 1966 (New York City)
Released in United States Summer May 23, 1965