Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur and the Patriarchal Psyche

Larissa Oliveira
Oct 17, 2017 · 3 min read

When the remarkable french director Agnès Varda launched Le Bonheur in 1965, its audience might have found it a feminist tale for men. The 60s was marked by the second wave feminist that much inspired movies made at that time. Varda’s new wave colleagues protagonized women that didn’t fit as one-dimensional characters. Godard’s muse Anna Karina played independent women through his gaze, which imples an incomplete accuracy of what really happens in a woman’s world. Despite this, her authenticity reflects an era of women who were exploring themselves beyond any early social imposition. Here, Varda protagonizes a man and his desires. How is her gaze different from Godard’s?

Well, let me set the plot of the movie (spoilers). Jean‑Claude Drouot plays the attentive, romantic and the great father François Chevalier. His wife, Thèrése and children wander happily through what seems to be an impressionist painting, due to its vivid colours. While their obedient children fall asleep on the bushes, they make passionate love. The boredom of the traditional family is soon replaced by a bourgeois classic: he finds a lover. What lies behind the graceful scenario from Le Bonheur which means Happiness in english is an intelligent gaze on the easy acceptance of a man’s behavior. We took so long to get over patriarchal internalizations yet society still covers so much BS coming from them that we still see women fighting for the same things for ages. Well, our protagonist is protected by his gender layer and confesses his infidelity to his wife, who first accepts it like many submissive women do, due to their dependence on men but next there’s a plot twist that reveals Varda’s real intention in romantacizing a man’s ideal world. The wife drowns herself into a river symbolizing the death of an ideal. The ideal that women have to accept a man’s wish in his own terms. Not even Anna Karina dealt with Godard’s abuse and soon he was dating another new wave muse. François thought love was additive, he sees no harm in replacing Thèrése in the family after her death by his affair because in his world this is something natural. The sarcastic movie from Agnès Varda opens a discussion on what defines a man’s integrity. Why isn’t it defined by his sexuality like a woman’s is ? Le Bonheur may be viewed as a feminist tale for men because it shows how naturally things occur to them when his wife is the one who suffers. It also puts a question mark on to what extent we want to go with gender equality. Is it a feminist act if women also sleep with whoever she wants ? Or are they being just as sexist as men? Agnès recorded this movie in the middle of the 60s and sexuality issues are still so relevant. We are yet to find the right terms to defend this equality that we have fought for so long. François can be considered a character ahead of his time if polymory is acceptable for some people and if the traditional conception of love is considered to be outdated.

Larissa Oliveira

Written by

Bilingual teacher and writer. Editor of the blog and fanzines at

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