“Le Bonheur” and the Feminism of Varda

Le Bonheur (Happiness) is the third feature film from the late and great Agnès Varda. Released in 1965, the film follows François, a man who seemingly has it all—he’s happily married to his wife, Thérèse, and has two children who he loves deeply. François’ life takes a turn, however, when he meets Émilie, a post […]

Marisa Jones
Marisa Jones
April 7, 2021

Le Bonheur (Happiness) is the third feature film from the late and great Agnès Varda. Released in 1965, the film follows François, a man who seemingly has it all—he’s happily married to his wife, Thérèse, and has two children who he loves deeply. François’ life takes a turn, however, when he meets Émilie, a post office worker, and falls in love with her. Stuck between the love he has for his wife and his newfound love for Émilie, François begins to split his time between the two women, desperate to maintain balance and find a way to be with them both. Effortlessly beautiful and surprisingly tragic, Le Bonheur displays all of Varda’s talents within its short runtime.

Le Bonheur’s tagline is “Only a woman could dare to make this film”. This statement ultimately rings true, as much of the film is about men using and taking advantage of women for the love they offer; though Thérèse loves François deeply, her love is still not enough to satisfy him, and he doesn’t respect her in the way that she desires.

Varda is known for incorporating feminist themes into her films, such as her second feature Cléo From 5 to 7, which has often been hailed as a vital piece of feminist cinema. Le Bonheur, though told through the lens of a man, is a critique on the treatment of women in society.

Women are too often used and discarded, only valued for what they have to offer to men as opposed to being seen as their own individuals. The women in Le Bonheur are only present to further François’ storyline—however, whereas this may be unintentional if this film was directed by a man, Varda does this intentionally to reflect on the way in which women are deemed valuable based on how much their life centers on men.

Le Bonheur further displays why Varda is considered such an icon when it comes to feminist movies, and why she made such an impact on the industry. She is not concerned about appealing to the feelings of men; she used her films to speak honestly and truthfully about the placement of women in society and the injustices she saw and experienced throughout her life. Varda openly spoke about the sexism she faced within the industry as a young woman, and these experiences shape the way her films look.

Varda stated that she “was a feminist before being born”, and this ideology is reflected in all of her films, Le Bonheur included. It’s hard to imagine a man making a film like this and the final product coming out the same, as a man would not be acting from the same perspective that a woman would on topics such as infidelity and the mistreatment of women. Varda is speaking from personal experience and from the experiences of many other women, and this personal element gives the film the spark it needs to hold up as an important piece of feminist cinema. It’s a tough feat, and one that only Varda could accomplish.

Varda’s talents shine in Le Bonheur, and it is a reminder of why her legacy will remain in the industry for decades to come.  In the history of film, movies like Le Bonheur matter—they remind us that stories don’t have to be extravagant to be meaningful, and that sometimes the simplest stories told through a unique perspective are the most powerful.