If you’re looking for an uplifting and happy cinematic experience you should really think twice about going to see a Stéphane Brizé film. The French director is in his element when ensconced in intricate studies of human endurance and suffering. His last film, The Measure of a Man, picked up a number of awards and was his most successful to date. In his latest, A Woman’s Life, he goes a step further. Painting a portrait of a woman who lives for, and suffers from, men.

In 19th century Normandy, Jeanne (Judith Chemla) returns home from finishing school, innocent, excited and with a head full of dreams. Her parents, the baron (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and baroness (Yolande Moreau), find her a nice young man (Swann Arlaud) to marry. At first, it’s love and they have a son, Paul. However, despite giving him a second chance, she struggles to cope with his infidelities and penny-pinching. Paul is sent to boarding school at an early age and becomes increasingly distant.

A Woman’s Life is an elegantly constructed and studied drama which covers most of Jeanne’s adult life. Judith Chelma is phenomenal and Brizé’s camera haunts her every moment, lingering expectantly on her sadness. Over twenty years passes by in just under two hours, but you’ll hardly notice. She seamlessly moves from hopeful young lady to broken widow. A Woman’s Life is a complex portrait of hope, love, sadness and family, told through a hazy and lingering lens.

A Woman’s Life is out in cinemas from 12 January.