One Sings, the Other Doesn't (1977)
December 28, 2023 12:26 AM - Subscribe

The lives of Pomme, an aspiring singer, and Suzanne, a struggling mother, as they search for their own identity in 1970s France.

Agnès Varda’s unsung feminist anthem is both a buoyant chronicle of a transformative friendship and an empowering vision of universal sisterhood. When seventeen-year-old Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) helps struggling mother of two Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) procure the money for an abortion, a deep bond forms between the two, one that endures over the course of more than a decade as each searches for her place in the world—encountering the dawning of the women’s movement, dreamy boho musical numbers, and an Iranian adventure along the way. Initially divisive for its sunny, idealized view of female liberation, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t now seems all the more radical—and all the more vital—for its unabashedly utopian spirit.

Pauline Kael: Agnes Varda brings a Disney touch to this account of women finding their independence. The lives of Pomme (Valerie Mairesse) and Suzanne (Therese Liotard) between 1962 and 1976 are supposed to indicate the evolution of modern women's consciousness, but the two don't seem to have any consciousness the way Varda skims over their lives, they could be butterflies or duckies. The singer, Pomme, and her combo tour provincial towns, performing educational songs, with lyrics (by Varda) such as "I'm neither a tough cookie nor a busy beaver nor a Utopian dream - I'm a woman, I am me" Decked out in harlequin colors that suggest a French child's dream of what Haight-Ashbury was like, they chant "My Body Is Mine." They sing about the joys of pregancy when it's "your choice and your pleasure"; they sing about their "ovules." The sunshiny simplicity of the feminist movement celebrated here is so laughable that you can't hate the pitcure. You just feel that some of your brain cells have been knocked out.

Susan Stark: Ms. Varda cross-cuts between the two lives, linking Apple's far-out adventures to Suzanne's inch-by-inch struggle for self-respect and self-determination with a voice-over narrative. Finally, the two come together again when Apple decides to have her baby in the small town in sourthern France where Suzanne runs a clinic for women.

The moment of their reunion, after so many years, is beautiful beyond words. Ms. Varda has them sitting outdoors at a table, engaged in flowing, rhythmic conversation, working together over a bowl of green beans. One has frizzy red hair; the other silky brown. One is outspoken and restless; the other is soft-spoken and sedentary. One sings; the other doesn't. None of that matters.

In Ms. Varda's world, an ideal yet to be realized, they are the same - root and stock. They are women. They not only have to come to peace with their womanliness, they have to come to rejoice in it.

Lindsay Pugh: Later, she compares the film's style to the "glamorous real-unreal quality of the new feminine-hygiene ads." Tbh, these are valid criticisms. Varda's film does look a little like propaganda at first glance, but to immediately dismiss it as shallow is stupid.

If you initially find yourself siding with Kael, I urge you to give this film a real chance. If Pomme's (Valérie Mairesse) songs comparing pregnancy to balloons and cooing pigeons aren't your thing, focus on the quieter moments. While this film may seem to lay its cards right on the table, there's still plenty left unsaid and it's not all rainbows and cheerful feminism.

posted by Carillon (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is pretty spectacular, also depressing that we are still fighting the same fights that these woman are. Certainly a matter of personal taste, but the music is really a weak spot for me, but I do understand it's also part of the setting. But the friendship is so powerful to see and feels so true. A bit interesting that Pomme chooses to parent trap herself.
posted by Carillon at 12:28 AM on December 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I saw this film in the 1970s and haven't been able to find it anywhere since, but it's always stuck in my memory, particularly the ending.
posted by essexjan at 4:09 PM on December 29, 2023

It's currently streaming in the criterion channel if you want to rewatch!
posted by Carillon at 10:01 AM on December 30, 2023

Ah, damn, the Criterion Channel isn't available in the UK. :-( But thanks anyway Carillon.
posted by essexjan at 4:50 AM on January 5

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