A Sunday in the Country (1984)

“All sorrows look alike.”

A Sunday In the Country (Un Dimanche a la Campagne), a film from Bertrand Tavernier is a seemingly simple tale of the events that take place one Sunday. Graceful, elegant and laced with ineffable sadness, the film is set just prior to WWI. The film begins with an elderly French painter, Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux) who lives with his housekeeper in the French countryside. It’s a long-held tradition for Ladmiral’s son, middle-aged Gonzague (Michel Aumont) to bring his “pious” wife, Marie-Therese (Genevieve Mnich) and their three children to spend the day in the country. The film begins at the start of the day, with Ladmiral preparing to walk down to the station to meet his son and his family. These early scenes establish the long-term relationship between Ladmiral and his housekeeper–a woman who works from dawn to long past dusk and who understands her employer intimately.

This particular Sunday is like all the other Sundays in the past. Ladmiral walks to the station and walks back home with his guests. His boisterous grandsons race to their grandfather’s home while Ladmiral and his son chat amiably, but there are undercurrents beneath the surfaces of these relationships. Ladmiral doesn’t seem to like his daughter-in-law much, but polite acceptance disguises the brief silent acknowledgements of disappointment.

The day unfolds with wonderful food, good company and glorious surroundings. And while the hours unfold, memories are stirred. Gonzague muses on his own would-be talents as a painter, and Ladmiral snoozes in the sun. While Gonzague and his wife creep away from the sleeping Ladmiral, we realise that the visit to the country is a duty, an obligation painstakingly repeated every weekend, but perhaps not particularly enjoyed.

The film’s mood underscored by the warmth and the doze-inducing peaceful summer day erupts with the arrival of Ladmiral’s beautiful daughter, Irene (Sabine Azema) in a motorcar. Glamorous, independent and yet obviously emotionally fragile, Irene explodes onto the scene making a rare, long-overdue and unexpected visit. Clearly her father’s favorite, and worshipped by her nephews, her personality overflows into the entire household, disrupting the afternoon.

Scenes from A Sunday in the Country could easily be lifted from impressionist paintings–the lush garden, the dancers in the café, and it seems that Ladmiral was part of that world. This is a bittersweet film that lightly glides over life’s disappointments while Tavernier successfully recreates an elegant pre-WWI world–a world that is soon to be loss forever. If you enjoy this film, I also recommend The Shooting Party.

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