One of the most beautiful movies in cinema and a best of the year.
Director: Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men)
Screenplay: Beauvois, et al, from Ernest Perochon novel)
Cast: Nathalie Baye (Catch Me If You Can), Laura Smet (Yves Saint Laurent)
Runtime: 2 hr 18 min
by John DeSando
"Two years of hell, some people went mad." "After the war, it will be different." Constant (Nicolas Girard)
The WWI soldier, Constant, in director Xavier Beauvois’ The Guardians, captures the ambivalence of the “the war to end all wars”: combat insanity that comes home with soldiers and the hopeless hope the world will be a better place. The only “better” is the film’s depiction of strong women taking the reins of a farm, modernizing it and making a profit.
It’s a small village whose story begins in 1915 and ends in 1920 in rural France, just long enough for women to take prominent places in the farms at home and for their returning men to find adjustment a challenge as they carry the memories of unspeakable horrors in the trenches of that “great war.”
Hortense (Nathalie Bye), an aging owner of a working farm, rides the plow while she attends to the politics of the large farm without the crutch of a domineering male. She does well enough to engage the services of a young maid, Francine (Iris Bry), who is a change agent for Hortense and her soldier son and a signal of the complications war brings to the world.
The cinematography is a perfect reflection of the tranquil country side lost in a trance of bucolic tasks until the war’s change agents arrive. Leave it to French cinema to languish over faces and landscapes, as if Manet or Constable were the artistic director. The slowly panning shots of laborers are as softly powerful as paintings in the camera’s movement.
The Guardians is one of the most beautifully photographed and quietly told stories of women abiding the tyranny of war with an aplomb unseen in modern cinema. This minimalist epic is one of the year’s best films and an appropriate emblem of the French ability to make cinema art. All other cinema pales by comparison.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at