‘ One Sings...’ still timely after 40 years
Feminism has gone through multiple “waves” since the 1970s, but our audience at a recent Stamford screening of the women’s liberation classic “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” agreed that the 1977 film is still relevant.
The event at the non- profit Avon Theatre Film Center was part of the Hearst Movie & A Martini group in collaboration with the Alliance Francaise of Greenwich. The theater screened the recent restoration of the movie that was supervised by director Agnes Varda and debuted in Paris in July.
Varda was Oscar- nominated for her documentary, “Faces Places,” earlier this year and shows no signs of slowing down at 90.
The filmmaker’s fascination with the real life going on around her has resulted in a youthful spirit throughout a career that goes all the way back to the debut film “La Pointe Courte” in 1954. Although she labored for many years in the shadow of her acclaimed filmmaker husband, Jacques Demy, she has come into her own since his death in 1990, with critics and audiences embracing both her new and old work.
Unlike most traditional directors, Varda has moved back and forth between fiction and nonfiction films. Her curiosity about politics and social customs has taken her around the globe. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Varda explored American politics in films about the Black Panther Party and the counterculture movement that benefitted from her objectivity.
“One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” was Varda’s attempt to come to terms with the feminist upheavals of the 1970s as a woman and a filmmaker. Although she constructed a fictional story about two unlikely female friends who experience liberation as they move through their 20s and 30s, the movie was built on Varda’s own research and she gives many scenes a feeling of documentary realism.
The younger and more optimistic Pauline ( Valerie Mairesse) drifts into a bohemian life as a traveling musician, while Suzanne ( Therese Liotard) starts off in a more settled existence as a single mother. It is to Varda’s credit that she doesn’t pit one lifestyle against another as the two women come to see the value in their independence from male expectations.
One audience member said after the screening that she thought the film still had lessons to teach young women who now live in an age when advances in technology seem to have given men the upper hand in both the personal and professional spheres. “The challenges the characters face in the ( early 1960s) scenes are still with us,” she said of the current # MeToo crisis in which men have been shown to be taking advantage of the women they have power over.
“One Sings the Other Doesn’t” also takes dead aim at the idea of women having the right to control their own bodies. The freedom of the two protagonists is explicitly linked to their decisions to have abortions when they aren’t ready for a child. Forty years later, it is nearly impossible to name a Hollywood film or TV show in which a character decides not to remain pregnant.
Varda’s movie preceded the Hollywood films that would touch on its feminist issues in a softened manner.
Paul Mazursky’s “An Unmarried Woman” ( 1978) was one of the few domestic movies that had its heroine choosing to stay single rather than run off with a seemingly ideal man ( and there were more than a few women who chided the Jill Clayburgh character for turning down Alan Bates’s offer of a summer in Vermont).
“We still have a lot of work to do,” a woman commented as she headed out of the screening.
The next gathering of the movie club will be a showing of another female coming of age story, “Peppermint Soda,” on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 7: 30 p. m. at the Avon Theatre in Stamford.
Valérie Mairesse, Thérèse Liotard, Agnes Varda and Charlie Van Damme at the premiere of the newly restored 1977 film “One Sings, The Other Doesn't” in Paris last July. Below, a still from the film.