In 1962, Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) was a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl with a great interest in philosophy, which translated into an interest in the rights of women. One day she was walking along the street in her town when she noticed a photographer's gallery, and was intrigued enough to go in and examine his wares. When Jerome (Robert Dadiès) emerged from his darkroom, he was happy to see he had a customer for a change, but then Pauline revealed why she was there: she recognised one of the women in his pictures as an old neighbour, someone who had not been much older than her but was humiliated by having a child out of wedlock. Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) is that woman, and she is partner to Jerome...
In 1977, there were two major French films released with lead characters named Pomme, this one and the early Isabelle Huppert vehicle The Lacemaker, but the two women could not have been more different. The latter was one of the saddest movies ever made, following painfully shy Pomme's downward spiral into dejection, whereas the Pomme in this Agnès Varda-directed work not only knew her own mind and was comfortable in her own skin, she was no shrinking violet, she was woman, hear her roar - in a very nineteen-seventies fashion, to boot. This meant your tolerance for One Sings, the Other Doesn't, would very much rest on your interest in the social mores of this decade.
Varda had been making films since the fifties, and had witnessed radical changes in her society over that period, therefore wishing to chart them she concocted a two-hour experience that would sum up all her mixed feelings about the positives and negatives of being female in France since she became an adult. On the whole, she appeared to believe things had improved, and that opinion rested on a specific aspect: the legalisation of abortion, a controversial subject in 1962 when the film starts, but more acceptable and reasoned in 1976 when she drew her two stories to their conclusion. It would be interesting to know what the Varda of '77 would have thought knowing the angry debates of the sixties continued afresh in the twenty-first century.
Pauline, who renames herself Pomme, was more of the focus than Suzanne was, since you had the impression it was with her Varda's sympathies lay in the main, but that was not to say Suzanne was worth glossing over, indeed she yearns for the simple life of respectability where singer Pomme does the opposite and becomes a hippy, a travelling minstrel of sorts. To modern eyes, Suzanne's ill-fortune (and boy, does she suffer for having two illegitimate children) makes her the individual who deserved more support than the more reckless, bullheaded Pomme, and that could render this difficult to get along with considering the passing of the years, especially when the film intermittently transforms into a musical delivering a bunch of hippy-dippy tunes about abortion and pregnancy.
The last act in particular, was almost non-stop Pomme trilling about her body, which made you think sure, fair enough, be in charge of your body, but don't be a slave to it. She proselytises so much that by the end the film had turned into the Pomme harangues you about pregnancy show, literally as her band The Orchids travel rural areas and pontificate in light harmonies about their ability to give birth and how it should be up to them and not the Church or State. Even if you agreed with them, their overbearing, cloying nature was a grave misstep in a film that could have offered a far more subtle yet insightful account of how women's rights had changed in the time from the sixties to the seventies, and when Pomme marries an Iranian but is then dismayed to find his culture is more comfortable separating men and women, it's difficult not to balk at her hubris that it would be different for her case. And yet, for all those caveats, this remained one of the stronger examinations of seventies feminism from a filmmaker who wasn't prepared to sweeten the Pill. Music by François Wertheimer - who appears, as a hippy, natch.
Aka: L'une chante, l'autre pas
[This is available on the Agnès Varda Blu-ray 8-disc box set along with six other features, a selection of shorts and a wealth of other interview material with the director, one of the greatest woman filmmakers of all time.]