GenreDrama, Romance Music directorJean Michel Defaye WriterAgnes Varda LanguageFrench
Release date2 January 1965 (1965-01-02) Initial releaseFebruary 10, 1965 (France) CastJean-Claude Drouot (François Chevalier), Claire Drouot (Thérèse Chevalier), Olivier Drouot (Pierrot Chevalier), Sandrine Drouot (Gisou Chevalier), Marie-France Boyer (Émilie Savignard) Similar moviesFactory Girl, Fish Tank, The Last Witch Hunter, Knock Knock, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, At the Edge of the Abyss
Le Bonheur ("Happiness") is a 1965 French drama film directed by Agnès Varda. The film is associated with the French New Wave and won two awards at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival, including the Jury Grand Prix. The film's notable colours resulted from the creation of a new colour negative because the original had faded during production.
François, a young carpenter working for his uncle, lives a comfortable and happy life in his marriage to his wife named Thérèse with which he has two seemingly perfect children, Pierrot and Gisou. Although finding abundant “le bonheur” in his marriage and indisputably loving his wife and children, François covetously pursues an extended happiness through an affair with a woman called Émilie whom he meets on a business trip. Émilie knows of and skeptically inquires François about his marriage to which he soothes her with charming words and continues in his infidelity. Finding love with Émilie in the afternoon and with Thérèse at night, François’ wife questions him on a family daytrip about the new level of happiness that he has experienced lately and which she has noticed. Finding himself unable to lie to his wife, François tells Thérèse the truth about his affair, but assures her that there is “more than enough happiness to go around, nothing has changed between them.” Thérèse is found dead shortly after hearing the news of her husband’s infidelity, news that essentially shatter her very character that is determined by her ability to feed her husband’s happiness. Left a widower, François responds with a short period of mourning followed by a continued pursuit of Émilie who gladly becomes his wife and the mother of his children. In completing his family with Émilie as a replacement for his late wife Thérèse, François’ life embodies a spirit of “le bonheur” once again despite his break with morality.
This French film was released in 1965 while the country was led under the guidance of Charles de Gaulle, elected in December 1958 as president over the newly created Fifth Republic of which he helped form. In the wake of World War II and after a long fight with their Algerian colony that ultimately lead to an Algerian independence in 1962, France was in the process of implementing de Gaulle’s “policy of grandeur” that would help to counterbalance the existing world superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union and create a strong, independent French foreign policy that desired to produce a united Europe. In addition to creating a strong French nation that could counter the power of the United States and Soviet Union that were themselves engaged in the Cold War, this policy also aimed to develop the French economy through a system with both capitalist and socialist components that eventually led to a gross national product (GNP) per capita in 1964 that exceeded that of the United Kingdom. “Le Bonheur” was released prior to massive social unrest within the nation of France that reached its peak in 1968 and that threatened to overthrow the still new Fifth Republic. This film contains many feminist elements that reflect the movements that were taking place among women during that time. These feminist movements emphasized “consciousness raising” among women that encouraged the female population to refuse to be silent and “to act in their own interests,” an idea that embodied the words of French feminist Simon de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex, when she stated that “women’s identity was a social construct that stood in the way of full equality.” During this time, the demographics of the French nation revealed low marriage rates, high divorce rates, increased births outside of the confines of marriage, and a general increase in female employment.