Film Review: The Guardians (Les Gardiennes)

Director Xavier Beauvois’ The Guardians (Les Gardiennes) is a World War I-set drama. There is beautiful scenery certainly, but the film is aching for a decent plot.

When her sons go to fight in the war, Hortense must take control of the family farm. Her teacher daughter lends a hand, but without the men, they struggle. Hortense decides to take on a young female farmhand to ease the burden…

Director and co-writer Xavier Beauvois’ film focuses on the families who stay behind when their young men go to war. The Guardians focuses on a farming family and their female hired hand. In one way, the film is refreshing. It frames the WWI period in terms of the matriarch and females in the household, rather than the men who go to war. In fact, the sons do not feature in the beginning, rather they drop in to the action at interludes.

Where the film stumbles is in its lack of an engaging narrative. For sections of the film there is no movement in the story. This would not be an issue if the character development was strong enough to compensate for this. Although Hortense is an interesting enough prospect, viewers never really get behind the surface. Likewise, Francine is sympathetic but there is little more to her. Nathalie Baye delivers a decent performance, whilst Iris Bry is also appealing.

A slow burn drama is fine, except in The Guardians it leads nowhere. The story starts to kick in after the first quarter, but it does not lead anywhere unexpected or remarkable. The narrative tangent it eventually takes is quite predictable. This is a shame as the premise of focusing on the women left behind had promise.

The Guardians is a slow going drama which hints at interest but never quite gets there. Instead, the audience learns about advancements in agricultural techniques and machinery in the 1910s. It is hardly scintillating.

The Guardians (Les Gardiennes) is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.