We read little the Four Daughters of Doctor March in Europe, and it should be recalled that the novel that Louisa May Alcott published in 1868 is not a mere bluette. Largely autobiographical, it evokes the hopes and ambitions of four sisters, each in love with an art, yearning for freedom in their adolescence and then coming up against a society dominated by money and male condescension. Through Jo March (magnificent Saoirse Ronan), the novelist told of her own liberation through writing, and her book was of vital importance in the vocation of many writers, including Simone de Beauvoir. Adapting it today means returning to the origins of a question that is still relevant: how to be a woman artist without depending on the decisions of men and without your femininity being constantly thrown at you?
Not making a thesis film, Greta Gerwig does not dwell on the misfortune of her heroines, preferring to retain their intelligence and their acute understanding of the society in which they live rather than to make them victims. The men around them are not adversaries, they have neither the strength nor the will. All a little tired of the social role they are supposed to play, they are rather accomplices keeping themselves withdrawn from an energy that exceeds them. And this feminine vitality illuminating a stuffy world is first of all a matter of enthusiasm and joy, impulses superbly carried by the actresses and which the filmmaker impulses in a scene as swift as it is elegant.
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But the biggest idea of the film is to deconstruct the original story, divided into two parts: one devoted to the almost ideal adolescence of the four sisters, and the other, taking place ten years later, narrating their difficulties in s ‘accomplish in society. Gerwig chooses to intermingle the two periods with constant round trips. Far from being a simple coquetry, this construction brings a sometimes melancholic dimension, where childhood is a lost paradise, sometimes exhilarating, where the past remains a happy promise illuminating the present. Gerwig adds another layer, supported by scenes where Jo March discusses with his editor: since the latter is the alter ego of Louisa May Alcott, his story can also be seen as a mise en abyme of the very writing of the novel. So the comparison of happy childhood and the vicissitudes of adulthood appears as a confrontation between the harsh reality and its sublimation by fiction.
A sentence from the novelist is used to highlight the film: “I had a lot of problems, so I’m writing gay stories.” Through the intelligence of its construction, this adaptation manages to show both the gay story and the problems it covers, to film the novel without irony while offering a subtle critique. Thus, the scene where Jo asks Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel) in marriage, and which announces the end of his literary career, is carried out with all the romantic enthusiasm which is appropriate while being mischievously shown as a concession of the author. By choosing to use the same actresses for all the temporalities of the film, the filmmaker allows herself a certain confusion, but, far from hurting the emotion, this feeling of not always knowing in what time we are immersed us. ‘all the better at the heart of the process of remembering and creation. The different dimensions of the narrative therefore never cancel each other out, in particular because Gerwig, while recalling what price Louisa May Alcott had to pay, does not cease to believe in the idealistic beauty of the novel which she adapts with great please.
Daughters of Doctor March of Greta Gerwig with Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson,… 2 h 15.