’Simone: Woman of the Century’ Review: An Afraid Leader in Focus

In „Simone: Woman of the Century” Director Olivier Dahan applies the same ultra-glossy lacquers he used to biopics of Edith Piaf (“La Vie En Rose”) and Grace Kelly (“Grace of Monaco”) to the life of French politician Simone Weil (1927-2017). , a Holocaust survivor, fought for the legalization of abortion in France as health minister, and later served as the first female president of the European Parliament.

Weil’s remarkable, decades-long career — which included advocating for the rights of Algerian prisoners and HIV patients, both sometimes neglected — calls for a larger canvas. Dahan’s default mode is close to bomb.

Early on, in a row set on the edge of the 1974 abortion law, he reveals a long line of male legislators in close-up. Later, in this decidedly non-chronological film, Weil’s incarceration in Bergen-Belsen becomes an occasion for Dahan to shoot an artful Steadicam. No matter how dire the situation, „Simone: Woman of the Century” treats it as a spectacle.

Weil is played by Rebecca Marder and Elsa Zilberstein at different ages. Timeline-wise, the actresses shift at times around the May 1968 uprising, though a complex, sometimes sparsely motivated flashback system suggests they remain connected in the process throughout.

Dahan, who wrote the screenplay, provides a useful overview of Weil’s achievements and sense of ethics (partly shaped by her experiences in the camps) and the obstacles she overcame in misogynistic civic spheres. But his biography deserves a more considered treatment — and a considerably less heavy hand.

Simone: Woman of the Century
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes. In theaters.

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