Behind Closed Doors (Une Histoire Banale, France 2014) is precisely what its original French title describes – an ordinary story.
Nathalie, a 30-year-old living in Paris, leads a simple and pleasant life. She gets along with her colleagues, often goes out with friends, and plans to move in with her loving fiancé. With a happy and prosperous future ahead of her, she could not ask for more in her small, quaint life. However, a night out with a co-worker changes Nathalie’s life as she knows it, and she is forced to face a new self she did not know could exist.
The film follows Nathalie through the aftermath of the violence done to her. She quickly becomes disgusted with herself, angry at everyone around her, and afraid of the world. Filled with guilt and hatred, she shuts herself off from her network of friends and colleagues and flounders in a life of solitude and depression. Her psychological breakdown seems never-ending as everything that used to give her pleasure now makes her feel dirty and insignificant. Unconsenting to this new world thrusted upon her, Natalie struggles to get a handle on her new emotional state as it seeps into every nook and crevice of her life.
The film’s incredible intimacy to Nathalie’s character and her psychological journey produce a story that closely mirrors reality. The film does not try and hide the dirtiness and ugliness that comes with a violent experience, and the effect is hauntingly beautiful. With a reactive and dynamic camera, we feel very close to Nathalie as she tries to navigate a new emotional sphere. Director Audrey Estrougo strips the story of excess and does not try to hide the visible trauma and destruction that happens to Nathalie’s body and mind. She is careful yet urgent in addressing the sensitive subject matter, and is acutely aware of its relevance in today’s social schema.
Marie Denarnaud’s powerful and thought-provoking performance of Nathalie leaves viewers speechless and livid at today’s mass societal problems. Nathalie’s transformative journey translates authentically to the many who have been in similar situations. Her depressive experience is true and relatable, and forces an audience to be critical of everyday sexism.
It is precisely the normalcy of the film that makes it so poignant. With a strong focus on character and an informal yet moving delivery of the cinematic, Estrougo emphasizes the under-representation of this unfortunately common feminine narrative. There has never been a greater need to discuss the war on gender given recent events of violence against women (i.e. Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby). Behind Closed Doors is a social commentary on the everyday power imbalances that women face, and the traces that violence leaves on the body and mind. With this, a trigger warning for survivors of sexualized violence should be given – some of the imagery is very graphic and explicit.
Audrey Estrougo shot Behind Closed Doors in three weeks in her own apartment with a crew of people assembled on the Internet. Given its lack of uniqueness, the content of the film might be hard to sell to a North American audience. Nevertheless, Estrougo’s approach is a true one that opens up a debate on sexism, injustice and violence.
Behind Closed Doors will linger in your mind for days after you watch it and leave you restless with the thought of daily violence and harassment against women that happens far too frequently.
By Zoe Arthur
Zoe Arthur is a UBC film production student, minoring in gender, race, sexuality and social justice. She writes about social issues in a critical, feminist framework and aims to show how film can be a powerful tool for social change.
Behind Closed Doors screens Thursday, March 5th at 9 PM at #VIWIFF2015. The film is preceded by the local short Through the Pane, directed by Pauline Egan, who also plays the lead in this equally strong actor-driven story.