La femme d’à côté

Your franco-american anecdote of the day…

We had an interesting debate in class yesterday after watching La femme d’à côté by Truffaut. It all started on the complexity of the main character, how hard their motives were to understand and how the story started out cliché but eventually was not, and Gérard Depardieu sure is a handsome guy (is he now? perhaps just as much as Oh là là ! means scandal–for me it’s just something my mum will say if the cat has vomited again on the carpet, whatever). Then–

"Miss, I have an idiot question. Is adultery really that common in France?" (just as I raised an eyebrow–) "Because French movies always seem to deal with adultery!"

Oh, that. Yes. As I was going into the usual explanation, that no, adultery is certainly no more common here and it is just the way we react to it, that we only hide it less and that you remember Bill Cliton and Monica, when the US were in a state of commotion and half of them wanted poor Bill’s head while back in France, we were scratching ours with much perplexity (and the tiniest bit of chauvinistic condescention–don’t tell about that) because our own president had done it for fifteen years and even had an illegitimate daughter and there was nothing wrong about that. I started to explain about Madame Bovary, l’amour courtois and how there has never been anything wrong with depicting adultery in art. And then the realisation of what was bothering them dawned on me–

"It’s just that Depardieu’s wife has such a weird reaction when she discovers that her husband in cheating. She fixes his dinner? She asks about his lover? She’s forgotten or what?"

I had not fully realised just how different we were. For me, it was only natural. She’s a loving, understanding woman in the eighties, fifteen years after the sexual revolution, a generation after Mai 68 (you know, this period during which all values were shattered to dust and for the briefest moment people were suddenly friendly and viewing each other as equals and throwing stones to the police to find the Beaches of Eden underneath the pavement, and then the better part of everything reverted back to normal). She’s a modern gal with a four-year-old boy and she wants to keep her family together. She would forgive. Psychologically, dramatically, that was the most obvious move. I was very far from realising that for most of my students, her reaction was absolutely alien. According to their experience, in the US, adultery means divorce (or else that’s because the husband is a controlling and abusive bastard, at least from what they told me). No one would ever find it normal to forgive and forget.

I’ll still wait for some more people to confirm this before I take it as fact. If it’s true, then I’ve only discovered one more difference between our old Europe and the other side of the Ocean.

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