Reviewed by Danielle Winston
This review is part of double feature on the film According to her. Please check out Danielle Winstons’s interview with director Estelle Artus.
According to her (2016). United States, 89 minutes. Directed by Estelle Artus. Starring Irina Abraham, Pascal Yen-Pfister, Nathalie Bryant, and Eloise Eonnet.
According to her is a female-centric drama written and directed by French filmmaker, Estelle Artus. It’s a story that unravels like a meditation on motherhood. When watching the film, the viewer flip-flops from various points of view and is left wondering if motherly love can, sometimes, be too much of a good thing.
The plot revolves around an accomplished Russian born concert pianist, Veronica (Irina Abraham), and her husband Paul’s (Pascal Yen-Pfister) circle of friends, all of whom are part of a tightly-knit community of affluent French expats, living and working in Manhattan. During a dinner party, shortly after Veronica has given birth to her son Keoshka, the subject of hiring a nanny and a housekeeper comes up over wine. Extra help sounds like a good idea to Paul. After all, Veronica has so many newfound responsibilities, certainly she can’t do it all. Instead of agreeing with her husband and friends, we can practically see the thoughts churning in Veronica’s mind, as she thinks: why hire someone else to do something I would gladly do? And so Artus sets the story in motion.
Veronica’s friends. Her husband. Everyone has a strong opinion about how a mother should raise her child. And when Veronica takes a firm stance on wanting to be her son’s caretaker, to the others at the dinner table it’s as though she has just confessed to being a space alien who eats puppies for breakfast.
Throughout the lushly photographed film, Veronica’s choice to raise her son weighs heavy on those around her, making her friends and family increasingly uncomfortable in their own skins. As time progresses, Paul’s interest in his wife begins to lessen. Paul is unable to fathom why a woman who once had a thriving artist’s career would swap it for a bland, domestic existence. Veronica’s choice takes the shine off his lovely wife, causing her sexual allure to diminish in his eyes. And although she stays quiet, Veronica feels the sting of her husband’s disinterest and becomes increasingly insecure about other women.
Once Amanda, (played by Eloise Eonnet) a successful younger pianist, and childhood friend of Paul’s, enters the picture, her presence causes an emotional shift within Veronica. On the surface, Amanda appears everything Veronica is not. She’s independent. Bold. Sexually confident. And creatively possessed. Along with jealousy stemming from Amanda’s flirtatious demeanor toward Paul, it’s painful for Veronica to witness the young woman’s thriving career. Secretly, Veronica begins to question the depths of her own musical abilities. As fear of losing her husband becomes heightened, Veronica’s loneliness intensifies and inner resolve weakens.
This film, written and directed from a female perspective, easily passes the Bechdel test. The story glimpses into a woman’s psyche and takes us on one mother’s unusual journey. Director Artus has a seemingly light touch and artistic style that occasionally takes on a darker, unexpected tone. Artus also has a knack for showing us the varied sides to her female characters; with the uber-confident cutthroat Amanda, played cooly by Eloise Eonnet, even when we think we understand what she’s about, Artus pulls the rug out from under us, and reveals a kinder more compassionate side to her personality. The film’s lead, Irina Abraham, delivers an especially strong multifaceted performance as Veronica. Abraham portrays a woman both fragile and iron-willed, in perpetual turmoil; one scene in particular, where Veronica explodes into song, manages to come across as raw, awkward, and yet somehow heartbreaking, due to her unabashed vulnerability.
As we watch Veronica’s emotional threads unravel, we witness a tale of a woman in conflict, torn between practicing her art, bonding with her child, and pleasing those around her. It’s an impossible task, one that weighs heavily on this story’s protagonist and causes the viewer to reflect on her own life choices in a deep thought-provoking way.