A Man and Two Women

(Valerie Stroh, France, 1991)


On paper, this does not seem like a great prospect. French actor Valerie Stroh makes her writing and directing debut in an anthology film, where she herself plays all the major roles.

Moreover, the source material is culled from a canonised body of modern literature – three short stories by Doris Lessing. Stroh as performer runs the gamut of exquisite female neurosis and desire, from mild-mannered intellectual to tortured housewife, from torrid incest to pure whimsy.

What might have been an acutely painful exercise in narcissistic projection becomes, in the event, a quite successful tribute from one artist to another. Stroh explores and externalises the many personae within herself in order to suggest that Lessing's stories too were a kind of disguised autobiography. In a written prologue, Stroh offers this "cycle of short and intimate tales" as "episodes from our daily sexual comedy".

The framing device is often the weakest link in anthology movies, and this one (with Stroh as a writer reflecting on the choice between love and career) is no exception. But despite some tentative direction on Stroh's part and a fairly dull title story, the film comes alive in its two strongest tales.

"Each Other" is a hypnotically perverse depiction of incest between brother and sister. "Our Friend Judith", which traces a reclusive poet's sensual awakening in an Italian village, calls to mind an equally fine evocation of a woman writer's life – Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table (1990).

© Adrian Martin November 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search