Frederick Wiseman’s third foray into dramatic features centres on Sophia Tolstoy’s complicated marriage to her novelist husband.
Unfolding as a series of to-camera addresses, A Couple follows Sophia as she wanders through a sprawling garden in Belle-Île, France, and muses on her marriage. Her husband Leo sees himself, above all else, as a writer – to the detriment of his role as a partner and father (only eight of their 13 children have survived beyond childhood). Wed when she was 18 and he twice her age, the couple subsist in a union underpinned by his rage and demands, and her solace and suffering.
Deftly incarnated by Nathalie Boutefeu, who co-wrote the screenplay with Wiseman, Sophia is the film’s sole character. Her journals and her husband’s letters loosely form the vehicle for the monologue-style recollection, complemented by alluring close-ups of flowers, insects and crashing waves. Building on an illustrious career that has included Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (MIFF 2018), National Gallery (MIFF 2014) and La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (MIFF 2010), A Couple sees the prolific filmmaker document a different kind of institution – marriage – using the words of a woman long relegated to the shadows.
“A belletristic homage to the most famously unhappy marriage in literary history … Valuable and insightful.” – The Guardian