Film review of Agnès Jaoui’s “Let it Rain” (France, 2008)
What’s interesting about this film—as well as this film review, for that matter—is that you won’t be reading it if you detest the word “feminist.” That is, if you abhor women with strong spines or have misconceptions about what feminism entails. If you identify with the aforementioned, just as you wouldn’t see a film starring Simone de Beauvoir, you wouldn’t see this one. Which is a shame, really, because all of the characters in “Let it Rain” think like you do—caveman-style, if you will—save for one. This notion is the real basis for the film: Most people, even the so-called liberal upper class, still either don’t understand or don’t advocate for what it means to be a feminist.
Agathe Villanova, a successful French author and aspiring politician, holds down the fort as the only self-identified feminist in the film. When approached by an unlikely pair of documentarians—Michel, a quirky, washed-up television reporter, and his protégé Karim, a young filmmaker with dreams he is unsure of how to realize—Agathe agrees to take part in a documentary they are filming about successful women. Right off the bat she is incredulous, noting (albeit wisely) that any documentary with such a demeaning title would inevitably manifest as a pitiful minority film. Regardless, she agrees, and immediately opinions about her are formed. Karim, taking the position of the typical man of today, immediately has a hard time describing Villanova, an atypically spoken-minded strong woman, as “nice;” he skirts around the words such as “overbearing” and “harsh” (though, to be noted, she is no more harsh than the average American male) until finally deciding upon “domineering” as the least offensive word to use with regard to her feminist nature. Michel, on the other hand, is less off-put by Villanova’s character than perplexed; he doesn’t understand why some women are more decision-oriented and durable than others. “So, should men bear children now?” Michel asks Agathe during an interview for the doc. This poses two interesting angles to the contemporary feminist debate: the one who is contemptuous and the one who just doesn’t get it.
For Villanova, the male gaze views a woman with power as a scary breed of beast. Agathe asks to be an equal but is met with resentment and is branded in her political career as a woman rather than a politician (“She shouldn’t be so sensitive if she wants to go into politics,” Michel pronounces after Agathe becomes offended by derogatory insinuations about her gender). She is met with opposition as well from the world of traditional women, most notably when her childhood housekeeper tells Agathe the only way for a woman to be happy is to be validated by a man. This is perplexing for Agathe, particularly because she struggles with a nonconformist relationship with her own lover in which she makes it clear, despite his wishes, that she will not marry him nor bear his children. For her, this is equality: the ability to lead a life marked by independence and full potential for personal growth. Yet however outwardly steadfast she appears in this way of life, inwardly she finds herself longing for security and stability.
Arguably the most fascinating and nuanced relationship in the film occurs between Agathe and her sister, Florence, who is married with children. “You’re so different from your sister,” Michel remarks to Agathe, and she nods in concurrence. “Yes, she was always the fragile one,” sighs Agathe. “How convenient to be fragile.” Florence, meanwhile, takes many opportunities amid bouts of emotional outburst to muse about how “liberated” she feels, while Agathe maintains the requisite politician front and painfully harbors her sentiments within carefully constructed confines. Which tactic, we are asked to consider, is really more convenient? Or, rather, which tactic is more convenient for a woman?
Alas, the modern woman is all too familiar with the word “compromise.” We are constantly compromising in relationships, most of us dealing with unbalanced power structures and double standards. We’re also compromising in the workplace, navigating expectations of submissiveness. The most heated compromise, however, lies in the realm of childbearing. The world as it is tells us we can’t have it all. Agathe is plagued by this, though she allays her uncertainty by settling under a veneer of assuredness. Intermittently, however, we see this semblance quiver with doubt and we wonder if Agathe really does know what she wants.
Director Agnès Jaoui plucks a concerto of strings to the tune of a cacophonous feminism exploration. In one of my favorite scenes, the trifecta takes a hike through the mountains of Southern France in search of an idyllic shot for one of the documentary interviews. The interview, however, is rudely interrupted by bleating sheep and an equipmental mishap, thus cannot be conducted. Embittered and late for a public appearance, Agathe leads the two disgruntled men back down the mountain. Agathe walks in front, exuding palpable power, while the two men follow behind her, escorted by the pack of sheep. Here, Jaoui asserts her overarching sentiment, highlighting a moment when two self-proclaimed masculine men follow literally like sheep behind the most well-adjusted intellectual force among them: a woman.