The Guardians

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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Don’t get confused: “The Guardians” may not be the film you may think it is.

No, we’re not talking “Guardians of the Galaxy,” that popular Marvel superhero series.

Nor are we referring to William Friedkin’s 1990 horror film. Not even that Coast Guard film starring Kevin Costner. Or the Russian superhero film of the same name. Or the 3D animated fantasy called “Rise of the Guardians.” We’re also not looking at the 1917 silent film of that name or the 2017 actioner starring my old friend Mario Van Peebles.

“The Guardians” we’re discussing here is a beautiful French film (original title: “Les gardiennes”) directed by Xavier Beauvois.

As you may recall, Beauvois gave us “Of Gods and Men,” the 2010 Grand Prix winner at the Cannes Film Festival. His new film – “The Guardians” – is the one that’s set to open Friday at Tropic Cinema.

This film was inspired by the 1924 novel by French author Ernest Pérochon, but Xavier Beauvois makes it his own story, eschewing the book’s wartime suffering to focus on the women back home.

Hats off to Beauvois’ cinematographer Caroline Champetier. This beautiful cinematic experience looks like a series of Jean François Millet paintings come to life. The film’s unhurried pace allows us to appreciate the beauty of the French landscape, wheat fields and hillsides bathed in the warm glow of the Limousin sun.

The year is 1915. While World War I rages elsewhere, this unspoiled section of French countryside is being farmed by the women left behind, their husbands, brothers and sons off fighting the Huns.

After an opening glimpse of a misty battlefield scattered with the dead bodies of soldiers, Beauvois turns his focus to three very different women (actresses Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet and newcomer Iris Bry).

Hortense and her daughter (played by Baye and real-life daughter Smet) work the farm, celebrating small pleasures like the arrival of a new tractor. However, instead of a loan to buy new equipment, the bank sends them a young female laborer to help on the farm. A vision to behold, Francine (Bry) is fit for a painter’s canvas with her flaming red hair and milky white skin. She is the catalyst that brings change to the farming family.

Hortense’s flirty son Georges (Cyril Descours) takes an interest in Francine upon his return, but she’s hard to woo. He doesn’t give up. It’s a drawnout romance.

“The Guardians” is a slow, melancholy movie that spans five years. In it, Xavier Beauvois explores humanity, not war.

The women on the home front are indeed: les gardiennes.

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