November 20, 1984 [A Sunday in the Country/Un dimanche à la campagne]

A Sunday in the Country gently insists--and keeps insisting--that I love my family, and that I begin with the faults, the disappointments, the small lapses, the selfish turns. The French family learns these lessons--well, continues to be taught: the son and father, neither of them the men they wanted to be--for themselves, for each other--the sister who breezes in and wears a mask almost frantic with its own insistence that it's her happy face--while the father's one small attempt to break free, to understand his life as an artist, sits hidden away with his dead wife's scarves and shawls--and in the painting are circus performers filled with honest pride and the efforts of their success, up there on the tightrope--while the audience remains indifferent.

The film's director, Bertrand Tavernier, sets up this drowsy little circus, the performers--some of them gone, others soon to go--all well-trained, a bit sad that they know their places perhaps too well, but still ascending the ladder--stumbling a bit, it's true, with the thought of their losses; but they still climb. And Tavernier directs this like a novelist--complete with a narrative voice, the third person looking at them at the father's country house--but not distantly, as honest as that voice is. No, sympathy sustains the film, the film spills into me, and I'm with my own family, grandparents long gone, cousins absent--but all of us at the little house in the city, smelling the old closets and the inside of the little china cabinet, the unused decanter giving off a whiff of almost-vinegar, the dim tiny cups no one uses, three dusty candy-coated almonds in the corner, pale pink and yellow and white. I see the movie in there, my chin on the shelf, my eyes looking at a pewter plate that almost reflects my face. If I could see it, I'd know where they were now, and whether they've enjoyed their nap after dinner.


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