Published Sep 01, 2001There are two worlds that exist simultaneously in "Mariages." The world of women who remain close to home and the earth, men who are absent from home and their family's lives. The ritual of the Catholic Church, the spells and potions of naturalistic religions. The life that Yvonne lives daily within her sister's house, the dream life that takes her away. The world of work and drudgery that fills the days while inside the house, the sensual expansiveness of nature. The cold contract of an arranged marriage, the intense passion of love. Yvonne is one person, ready to break into another. "Mariages" depicts her journey.
This is a beautiful and image filled film. You can feel the leaves as Yvonne wonders through the forest. You wish you swam in the same lake. If, however, you are like me and don't relate well to movies that rely too heavily on symbolism then you will feel a distance. Too often it is the icons and symbols that we relate to rather than the characters. We attach our own interpretations which has its advantages but this doesn't take into account the responsibility of the filmmaker. Mariages is carefully constructed and a missing piece only complicates matters. And without knowing the reference, it feels like a guessing game.
The setting is rural Quebec at the turn of the last century. The women are very determined and it is a battle of wills between Yvonne and her sister Helene that drives the story. Yvonne refuses to curb her wilder habits. She wonders through the woods, swims naked in the lake and is too close to their stepmother. Helene is rigid and, oh so, controlled. She attempts punishment and insists that Yvonne will be sent to a convent to learn respect. It's an old story but it's told simply and well in Mariages. The grave of their mother, who died 20 years earlier, is opened and her body hasn't decomposed. She has turned to salt. The reaction of the two daughters to this miracle' reveals their motivations. Helene feels a desperate need to clean up their lives as their mother may be declared a saint. She worries that others are watching their every move. Yvonne struggles to find some association with a woman she never knew. Secrets of the past soon arise.
There are almost no men in "Mariages." They are discussed, worried over or complained about but they rarely fill the screen. When they do, it is often for sex. An interesting turn for cinema and it's not as crude as it sounds. Men and marriage are a means of survival. It is the only way to leave the family home other than the convent and it provides security and respect. Mariages is a surprisingly violent film for a movie with no actual violence. Blood is a prominent feature. Helene attempts to keep a clean and ordered house but Yvonne is of the earth and her natural side cannot be curbed. She refuses to lose her passion. It's wonderful when a film doesn't ask the woman to conform and actually celebrates her distance from society. Even though the style of "Mariages" wasn't my teacup, the sentiment speaks volumes.