NOW Women's Film Festival: One Sings, The Other Doesn't

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, women’s rights and abortions are as timely as a ticking clock. But surprisingly, a 1977 French movie titled “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” adds to today’s dialogue about the subject.

“One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” – screening at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, at Tropic Cinema is the third offering in this year’s annual Key West NOW Film Festival.

“We are delighted to present our fourth year of important films by visionary women,” says festival coordinator Andrea Henley Heyn. “There is something for everyone: something thought-provoking, something funny, something revealing a unique point-of view on universal topics.”

“L’une chante, l’autre pas” – known to American audiences as “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t – focuses on two women over the span of 14 years during the 1970s Women’s Movement in France.

Th heroines of the film, Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) and Pauline (Valérie Mairesse), meet in the early ‘60s in Paris. Suzanne is living with a destitute photographer; Pauline is still a high school student. When Suzanne finds she’s pregnant with a third child she cannot afford, Pauline pays for her to have an abortion.

The story follows the two women as they live their separate lives but keep in touch throughout the years. Pauline goes on to become a feminist pop singer known as Pomme, while Suzanne raises her children and writes about life on the family farm. Years later, the two friends are reunited at a demonstration for abortion rights near Paris. Pomme now lives with her partner Darius, an Iranian grad student she met in Amsterdam when she was herself getting an abortion. And Suzanne is involved in community work. Despite each taking different paths, they affirm their own female identities.

The protest scene is a re-creation of the 1972 demonstration held in the Paris suburb of Bobigny, attended by prominent figures, in defense of a young woman who had had an abortion after being raped.

Written and directed by Agnès Varda, a Belgian-born photographer and filmmaker, “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” is admittedly somewhat plotless. Nonetheless, we willingly follow the story of these women because they are simply interesting.

Varda’s films are often considered feminist because of her use of female protagonists and her creation of a female cinematic voice.

According to Ruby Katz, writing in Facets about “Female Inhibition and Empowerment in 1960s Paris,” Varda often focused on women’s issues thematically and never tried to change her craft to make it more conventional or masculine.

Director Martin Scorsese describes Agnès Varda as “one of the gods of cinema.”

Varda’s work predates the French New Wave, but contains many elements specific to that movement. Because of her literary influences, Varda’s films more precisely belong to the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) cinema movement.

She is perhaps best known for 1967’s “Cléo from 5 to 7,” two hours in the life of a pop singer coming to terms with her mortality while waiting for the results of a medical biopsy. A BBC poll voted it the second greatest film directed by a woman (behind only Jane Campion’s “The Piano”).

As for “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t.” Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars out of four. He praised its simplicity, its portrayal of the leading female characters’ friendship and Varda’s direction.

“Varda’s title is a perfect one (and even more melodic in French),” he wrote. “Here we have them … Two women, friends, and one sings and the other doesn’t, but they’ll remain friends and sisters for all of their lives.”

He adds, “What Varda’s doing, in a sneaky way, is making her case for feminism in a lyric voice instead of a preachy one.”

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