“THE CHEF’S WIFE”
Creating a New Life
French director Anne Le Ny’s “The Chef’s Wife” is a brilliant comedy as well as a master class in French acting. It stars two of the most critically acclaimed actors in modern French cinema, Karin Viard and Emmanuelle Devos and this is the first time that they star together. Carole (Devos) feels inadequate and overshadowed by her Michelin-starred chef husband, Sam (Roschdy Zem). She decides to take a course at an adult training center and there she meets Marithé (Viard) who wants to help Carole create a new life with plenty of fulfillment.
The two women hit it off right away and they, bond over their desire for change. Both want more out of life in the workplace and in their personal life but do not know how to go about it. However, complications arise when Marithé meets Carole’s charming husband. We get a look at female friendship, love, lies and wanting something you can’t have. When Carole is laid off from her job, she wants to find another before her husband, restaurateur Sam finds out and so she goes to the adult training center where Marithe works. A friendship that will shake up the women’s lives begins.
Marithé’ stays busy retraining a roomful of women who’ve recently been laid off from a toy factory. But there is one woman there who is obviously out of place, Carole. Marithé keeps Carole at arm’s length but agrees to help retrain her. There is wonderful chemistry between the two women especially since they both want more out of life.
This is a well-written comedy/drama that is peppered with touching asides and comedic moments. One of the chief pleasures of the film is to simply watch the two actresses tear into well-written material and breathe life into their complex, occasionally even contradictory but finally always comprehensible characters.
Carole never finished her studies and is unsure what she could do. To make matters worse is that Marithe and Carole start off badly. Carole’s too afraid to admit what she does for a living and that same evening, Marithe is taken out for dinner for her birthday to Sam’s restaurant, where Carole is the hostess.
Carole is flustered and introduces Marithe to Sam as her “gym buddy,” and not much later, life starts imitating Carole’s lies, at least to the extent that the two women start seeing each other outside of Carole’s office appointments. Marithe also meets Sam again on several occasions. In a more conventional film perhaps they would fall in love thus either ending Carole’s already miserable life would either be over or she would live her life in the shadow of a famous husband.
Instead there are problems that the other woman is better at identifying or helping to solve and thus creating a more complex inter-dependent dynamic for the protagonists. Things become morally problematic when the divorced, working-class Marithe finds herself practically forcing the clearly talented but unfocused Carole to assert her own independence, and this would mean not only a job for herself but also a divorce from the man that Marithe is secretly attracted to.
Both women need each other to become better. They have similar problems but director Le Ny doesn’t suggest that this means they become fast friends. Instead, much of their interaction happens in a middle area where the women’s individual needs are probably the biggest influence on their behavior. Neither necessarily acts out of malice.
Even though this is very much a female-centered drama, one of the nicest touches is the way it integrates the complex roles men can play in women’s lives, as is clear from Marithe’s very comfortable and warm relationship with her ex-husband (Philippe Rebbot) and his second wife (Le Ny).
On the surface, “The Chef’s Wife” revolves around the story of two women vying for the affection of the same man, but Le Ny digs deeper and the real emotional heart of the film is the relationship between the women. This is a funny and insightful look at the nature of female relationships.
Of course the question is raised as to what price is put on female relationships when the love of a man is up for grabs? It’s an interesting dilemma and one that is treated with delicacy and humor. The two women are physically, character-wise and socially at opposite ends of the scale. Marithé is blonde, career-oriented, passionate about her work while dark-haired Carole is childless, unhappily married with an undemanding job in the shadow of a successful husband> Nonetheless, the friendship blossoms because fundamentally they are two sides of the same coin. Marithé admires Carole’s comfortable lifestyle while Carole is tougher and more devious than she appears. The reason that the friendship lasts is because each woman learns something important from the other.