“The Lacemaker” – a Portrait of Female Sensitivity

the lacemaker 1977


Title: “The Lacemaker”

Release Date: 1977

Director: Claude Goretta

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Yves Beneyton, Florence Gioretti, Sabine Azema




“The Lacemaker” by Swiss director Claude Goretta is a moving intimate cinema that is a study of female vulnerability. Isabelle Huppert’s magnificent performance as a young hairdresser wounded by an emotionally unstable man is long remembered. We get to know Beatrice’s delicate mental structure without having access to her experiences, but only by observing the girl’s behavior. We are thus put in the position of the audience of the famous painting by Jan Vermeer, to which the film refers. We delve into every detail on the face of an ordinary “lace-maker” to discover the mystery of the work, that is, to find out why this very ordinary girl was immortalized by the great painter.

“Lacemaker” – the story of an ordinary hairdresser

“The Lacemaker” by Goretta tells the story of 19-year-old Beatrice (Isabelle Huppert), who works as a hairdresser. One day the girl, in order to console a friend experiencing a love disappointment, goes with her on vacation to Normandy, by the sea. At the resort she meets François (Yves Beneyton), a young literature student from a wealthy family, who quickly falls in love with her. The heroine reciprocates the feeling and soon the couple decides to live together. Over time, the girl’s secretive nature and her lack of ambition to change her professional position, cause François to begin to see her as uninteresting and intellectually inferior to him, and the relationship itself as a misalliance.

The boyfriend therefore abandons his partner, having previously explained to her exactly why he made his decision. It seems that Béatrice, who is closed in on herself, accepts the situation with great calm. However, after some time it comes to light that the girl has undergone a serious mental breakdown and is hospitalized. Informed by her mother, François visits his ex-girlfriend, and the sight of her suffering causes her to suffer shock and burst into tears after the visit.

the lacemaker film analysis


“The Lacemaker” – a masterpiece by Goretta and Isabelle Huppert

“The Lacemaker” is an excellent adaptation of Pascal Laine’s novel. The film was honored with prestigious awards, such as a statuette at Cannes and two awards for Isabelle Huppert’s stunning performance: the David di Donatello and the BAFTA. Goretta’s work is an example of an intimate trend of cinema, in which an ordinary story, filmed with great sensitivity, is in the foreground instead of formal innovation and experimentation. Repeated from time immemorial, the plot about unhappy love would be nothing special if it were not for the character of the main character at the center.

Delicate, freckled Béatrice, who does not follow fashion and shuns noisy discos, is seemingly almost transparent. Her shyness and introverted nature make it difficult for her to make friends, especially with the opposite sex. However, it is these qualities that make her attractive in the eyes of a reflective student. They share a community of interests (they both like to read), a way of spending their free time (away from the hustle and bustle) and a sexual connection. However, as it turns out, they differ by much more. And it’s not in spite of the fact that, as it seems to François, he towers over his partner in every possible aspect. What divides the couple most is the completely different scale of sensitivity of the characters.

What the boy fails to see is that under the outer mask of simplicity, Béatrice hides an unheard-of inner richness that far exceeds his assets. She is the character who is far more complex and noteworthy than the erudite man familiar with the world. Uneducated, shy and lacking in panache, the girl possesses the capacity for a truly sensual perception of the world. This is evident in the scenes when she prepares meals, reaches for an apple, tries to satisfy her boyfriend’s whims or takes care of an unhappy friend. Almost every gesture of the heroine seems imbued with a deeper meaning. Her life is authentic and completely devoid of the artificial, bloated pose of a student armed with learned theories and knowledge of art.

the lacemaker movie review - painting


“Lacemaker” by Goretta and a painting by Jan Vermeer

It is in the contrast between the pair of main characters outlined in this way that the idea of referring to Jan Vermeer’s painting fits. In addition, a truly painterly method of filming scenes can be seen here. Pastel colors, the predominance of storytelling by image rather than by dialogue, or the tendency to capture everyday situations in frames reminiscent of Dutch miniatures – all this brings to mind fine arts. The viewer of Goretta’s film, like an observer of painting, does not have access to the inner experiences of the portrait’s heroine. He can only guess at them based on the way she performs actions. The very gesture of making her an object of art makes the girl a unique and noteworthy character. The painter and director clearly indicate to their viewers to look carefully, because this is where the real mystery resides. The lacemaker and Béatrice have a lot in common – they are not great heroines, but girls of the people engaged in painstaking daily work. However, in the uncanny focus on simple activities, the richness of their qualities is manifested. They are the ones we want to look at, losing sight of all the rest, left outside the picture frame.

Therefore, an ordinary woman, in whose work devotion and deepest love are manifested – is an object worthy of artistic study. Her vulnerability is authentic and surpasses all scholarly platitudes. Unfortunately, by the same token, her downfall is equally authentic – a final and agonizing one that even the most sincere cry of the moved observer can no longer undo.


A. Garbicz, „Kino, wehikuł magiczny. Przewodnik osiągnięć filmu fabularnego. Podróż piąta 1974 – 1981”, Kraków 2009.