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MSU Cinema International Presents French Comedy "How to be a Good Housewife" This Week

Murray State University's Cinema International is screening the French comedy How to Be a Good Housewife this week in honor of Women's History Month. Set in the 1960s at a women's homemaking school, it is a satirical portrayal of three women's journeys during the social upheaval and transformational change taking place in France. Paulette Van Der Beck, played by Juliette Binoche, becomes the director of the homemaker's institute for young women on the eve of 1968 after unexpectedly losing her husband. Daniel Hurt speaks with Cinema International program director Dr. Thérèse St. Paul about the upcoming screenings of the comedy, which she says has goofy elements, but the satire is biting.

“This movie satirizes the old-fashioned politics, sexual politics of the pre-60s,” St. Paul says. “The cast is really stellar. Actress Juliette Binoche gets to show her real comedic talents as the director of an old-fashioned housekeeping school for girls. She's dressed to kill, and the timing and performance of showing these school mistresses telling the young girls how to be a perfect housewife are excellent.” St. Paul says viewers might be surprised that a school for learning how to be good homemakers existed in France as late as the 1960s. "And that's in the late '60s, which seems late," she says. "It's an interesting, stylish movie filmed in the retro vein."

The film is set in the lead-up to the student riots in Paris in 1968, which St. Paul explains led to a progressive wave of reform for women's rights and protections for the first time since the Second World War. Charles De Gaulle, the longtime president of France, would leave office and give way to a series of younger leaders who enacted women's policies, including financial and political rights. St. Paul commends the film's director, Martin Provost, for his smart interweaving of satire through what's happening in the homemakers' school, tucked away in the province of Alsace, far away from the unrest brewing in Paris.

"That's where the feminist ideas are coming up," St. Paul explains. "I think the film includes several direct references that are sharp to what was happening in reality, as well as historical references to the aftermath of World War II. I'm sure that people will be surprised to hear that, at the time, women couldn't open a bank account without their husband's consent. So, while it's really hard to believe, you see these things change when [the film's character] realizes that she suddenly can have a bank account. That is really serious stuff."

Saint Paul said the events surrounding this comedy helped unite almost an entire generation of young people and changed the cultural landscape of France and Europe. “I think that the younger audiences who have no knowledge of what's happened, especially in France and the 60s, will be surprised to learn some things from this movie. You can see the characters are hearing the news stories and starting to talk amongst themselves, especially about everything to do with sex and freedom. They wanted modernity and more protection, more participation, especially in government, and they would be successful."

MSU Cinema International presents How to Be a Good Housewife on Thursday, March 7, and Saturday, March 9, at 7:30 pm in Faculty Hall, room 208, on Murray State's main campus. The screenings and post-film discussions are free and open to the public. For more information on the Cinema International program, including upcoming screenings and how to donate, visit its website.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “River City Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.
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