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Movie Review - The Woman Next Door (1981)

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This French film with English sub-titles is an engrossing story told by a narrator, Madame Odile Jouve (Veronique Silver), who owns a tennis club and becomes close friends with all of her patrons.  Odile has her own story which is revealed as she imparted to the viewer her main interest of the moment, a couple who lived happily in a nearby country house outside of Grenoble, France.


Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) and Arlette Coudray (Michele Baumgartner) and their young son Thomas (Olivier Becquaert) learned that a couple would be moving in next door.  The house had been purchased by an air traffic controller, Philippe Bauchard (Henri Garcin) and his wife Mathilde (Fanny Ardant).  They met one day outside of their homes and Arlette invited them to dinner the next evening.  Bernard and Mathilde were startled to see each other since they had been lovers eight years ago and had parted ways.  Neither one mentioned to their spouses that they had known each other previously.


Gerard Depardieu

                                                       Gerard Depardieu - Wikimedia

Bernard Works Late

Bernard was a bit disturbed that Arlette had invited the couple to dinner.  On that evening, he called Arlette to say that he was being held up at work and to start the dinner without him.  He did not arrive home until Philippe and Mathilde had gone home.

A short time later Bernard and Mathilde met in the grocery store.  Mathilde explained that she was planning to invite them to dinner during the next week.  She explained that she and Philippe had no idea that Bernard and Arlette lived next door.  She asked Bernard for a kiss when they parted.

The Tennis Club

Philippe and Mathilde joined Bernard’s tennis club which is owned by Madame Odile Jouve.  Odile is an attractive older woman who walks with a cane and has a prosthetic leg.  She explained to Mathilde that she had actually thrown herself out of an eighth-story window when a man she loved very much left her.

Mathilde was a Writer of Children’s Books

At the club, Philippe and Mathilde met Roland Duquet (Roger Van Hool), a writer who was interested in the fact that Mathilde wrote children’s books, and was anxious to collaborate with her.  She explained, though, that she had to quit years ago because of illness.

Philippe mentioned to Roland, out of earshot of Mathilde, of course, that she was a very complicated woman and his last chance at happiness.

The Affair Begins

Mathilde tried several times to contact Bernard by phone.  When he finally answered, he told her to meet him at a certain hotel in town.  It was the beginning of many meetings because Bernard arranged to rent Room 18 by the month so that they could meet unseen whenever they wished.

They both remembered their time together as pleasant.  They had met at a children’s party and had fallen in love with each other immediately.  At the hotel, Bernard noticed a scar on her wrist and called it to her attention.  She apparently had become depressed when Bernard left her.  She said “You were a skirt chaser.”  He told her she was even more beautiful now.


Fanny Ardant

                                                             Fanny Ardant - Wikimedia

Mathilde Resumes her Writing

Roland encouraged Mathilde to take up her writing of children’s books once again, and they met on the tennis club premises to continue their work.  Roland mentioned that a man came from New Caledonia to see Odile.  She left on a trip the same day.

Dinner at Mathilde’s House

Bernard and Arlette had dinner at Mathilde’s house.  Mathilde mentioned that Philippe had to go away for three days.  He brought her a present of a dress that she had admired.  She tried it on.  Philippe mentioned to Bernard that it meant a lot to him to see Mathilde laugh.  They met after she had a quick divorce and married soon afterward.

Bernard arranged to meet Mathilde again at 6 o’clock in Room 18.  Because Philippe was away, she did not want to go to the room; they went to the lunch room.  Bernard asked her about her earlier divorce.  She said it was Patrick.  She lived with him for two years, although she learned early on that he was a violent man.

Mathilde Wants to Call It Off

Bernard suggested to Mathilde that they could run away together.  She mentioned that when she became pregnant, Bernard did not want the baby; yet he had a child with Arlette.  She decided it was better if they did not see each other again.  He took her up to Room 18 where she tried to resist him but did not.  She explained that she enjoyed meeting with him but it would not happen again.

Philippe Goes Away on Business

At home, Bernard looked out his window and saw that Philippe’s car was gone.  He went to the hotel and learned that Room 18 was occupied.  He called Mathilde to meet him there.  She explained that she had been working on her book and Roland liked her drawings.  She repeated to Bernard that she did not want to see him anymore.  He went to Mathilde’s house.  She explained that she did not like living a lie.  She could not tell Philippe.  She and Philippe planned to head for the tropics because they had never had a honeymoon.  Philippe had browsed through an old album of Mathilde’s and showed her a photograph of Bernard.  He said to her “Did you and Bernard know each other?”  She lied to him that Bernard had loved her cousin but her cousin’s father did not like Bernard, so their friendship did not last.

On his return from his business trip, Philippe had a party at the tennis club for all of his friends.  Bernard and Arlette were invited.  Bernard approached Mathilde and asked her not to go away.  He turned into a madman, yelling and screaming in front of everyone.  He even knocked her down.  She and Philippe left on a plane the next day.

At home, Bernard explained to Arlette that he and Mathilde were lovers eight years ago, but he thought it was over.  Arlette became sick that night and learned that she was pregnant.


Grenoble, France

                                                      Grenoble, France - Wikimedia

Philippe and Mathilde Plan to Move

In the tropics, Philippe told Mathilde that he would ask Mrs. Jouve to find them an apartment that they could move to.  He told Mathilde that she called out Bernard’s name in her sleep. 

Mathilde’s Book is Published

Mathilde published her book and Philippe had a party for her at the tennis club.  A fire started in the kitchen and Mathilde became distressed.  They found her in the bushes, crying, and she was taken to the hospital.  The doctor said she had a nervous breakdown.  She would not talk to anyone.  Philippe asked Bernard to visit Mathilde at the hospital.  She talked to Bernard.

Bernard fixed her radio for her so that she could listen to music.  She was given some new pills by the doctor which helped her immensely.  She was released from the hospital and she and Philippe moved to an apartment.

A Surprise Ending

The ending will not be revealed here, only to say that it was a surprise ending, which I did not anticipate.  I can only say that this film was mediocre.  If the viewer is not accustomed to foreign language films with English subtitles, it might be difficult to follow.  It was certainly intriguing, however, and I had to stay to learn the ending of this impossible and complicated plot.












The Woman Next Door
Amazon Price: $9.95 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 19, 2016)


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