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Loudun, October 1947. Leon Besnard and Marie celebrate their eighteenth wedding anniversary with friends and Ady, a former German prisoner they have "adopted". A few days later, Leon dies. Louise, a friend of the couple's and probably Leon's mistress claims that, on his deathbed, the deceased told her that Marie was poisoning him. The whole town soon condemns Marie and she is arrested and sent to jail. Did she really kill Léon as well as twelve other members of her family as she finds herself charged with? Written by
Based on a "cause célèbre ", The Marie Besnard case (already highlighted by a 1986 TVfilm starring Alice Sapritch), Christian Faure's "Marie Besnard l'empoisonneuse ", a TVfilm in two episodes, is French television at its best.
Did Marie Besnard really poison her husband, after murdering eleven relatives, or was she merely the victim of circumstances or else the sacrificial lamb of ill-meaning rumor, nobody knows for certain and don't expect the film to give you the key to the mystery. Which is a good point in fact, for ambiguity is always more rewarding in terms of storytelling and character development than the expression of a one-sided point of view, good only for propaganda or advertising.
Not in the least Manichean, the writers and the director presents us with a woman we do not know if we must love or hate, admire or loathe . Another good idea is to make us see the case through the eyes of a couple forming and breaking up thanks to and because of Marie. Simone, a girl from Loudun who knows Marie, first wants to defend her and that is what draws her close to Maître Vidal, Marie's lawyer, whose objective is of course identical: clear his client's name. But as the story unfurls, Simone, who has become a reporter, starts doubting and as her main goal has become the search for the truth, she gradually becomes estranged from Vidal, still ready to support Marie at any cost .This is a fine device at once bringing life to an otherwise gloomy story and epitomizing the contradictory public and justice attitudes to the Marie Besnard case.
Comedian Muriel Robin is instrumental in the achievement of the film. As the "poisoner"(?), she is as withdrawn as she is usually expansive. Plain-looking, badly dressed, spouting lips, stubborn eyes hidden behind spectacles, Muriel/Marie (it is difficult two separate character and actress) goes through the whole ordeal, dejected at times but always dignified, never really yielding to adversity. This strange mix of ordinariness and unusual strength finally manages to make the character appealing whatever you can think about her.
The rest of the cast lives up to her but a few performances can be singled out for praise on the part of Mélanie Bernier, pleasantly combining spontaneity and seriousness, Jean-Noël Brouté, portraying a very lifelike police inspector, Jean-Paul Bonnaire as the debonair graveyard caretaker and Annie Grégorio, both comical and detestable as Marie's false friend.
Let's not forget the excellent work of the whole art department. They are to be praised for the accuracy of the period details. The cars, the clothes, the interior settings, the equipment of the radio and television crews, all give an impression not only of realism but of reality to this story set between 1947 and 1980.
The viewers who, in amazing numbers, spent two of their evenings before their TV sets ,have not been disappointed by this intelligent TV film. They have not been taken for fools, as is too often the case.
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