The Tyler Perry crowd would have positively no idea what to make of Gilles' Wife. In a French town of the 1930s, wife and mother Elisa (Emmanuelle Devos) tumbles to the terrible knowledge that her husband (Clovis Cornillac) is hitting the sack with her nubile younger sister, Victorine (Laura Smet). When Mr. Wonderful finally cops to the infidelity, his undimmed lust overrides any genuine repentance; meanwhile, the wisest guidance Elisa's priest can offer is admonishing her to abandon any sinful thoughts of revenge.
So how does sister get some of her own back? By smacking hubby and preacher man upside the head with a tire iron? By launching a carefully orchestrated program of retaliatory humiliation that encompasses all sorts of wacky hijinks? Uh-uh. She reaffirms her role as Gilles' best friend, patiently helping him to navigate this difficult period in his "love life" by turning a sympathetic ear and sharing information about Victorine only a sibling would know. Oh, and we should probably mention that Elisa is visibly pregnant with a third kid the entire time. That sound you hear is one million cheap weaves being pulled out by the roots.
Yes, Gilles' Wife follows a story arc that, depending on one's perspective, is either a quaint relic of an alien culture or flat-out insane. Nor does it help much that the film generally moves slowly enough to make Junebug look like Diamonds Are Forever. Yet somehow, the plot remains emotionally coherent involving, even amid a minimum of dialogue. Director Frédéric Fonteyne is concerned with the silent moments between people specifically the probing looks Elisa casts at her Kowalski-esque better half as she slowly realizes what her life has become and what she intends to do about it. We may not fully understand her motivation, but we can always at least identify it. And in the hands of the able Devos, whose expressive features can carry off any scene of hushed contemplation, identification turns out to be a pretty decent companion. Even when we're secretly wishing she'd go all Madea on us, just for a minute.