A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries: A Review

Based on Kaylie Jones’ novel, “A Soldier’s daughter Never Cries (1998)” is a story about an unconventional American family living at Paris in France. It is a fictitious account of the family life of author James Jones, who is portrayed as the head of the family in the movie as Bill Willis (Kris Kristofferson). It rejects the fact that only those films that depict the stories about dysfunctional families attract audiences. This one hundred and twenty minute long movie transpires between 1964-1973, an era in which the breaking-up of families was a major social concern for the western world.

The story revolves around the Willis family consisting of four members that endures good times as well as hardships together. Channe or Charlotte Anne is the biological child of Bill Willis and Marcella Willis. The family lives in America and shifts to France and then again, back to America. This shifting from one place to another does not let Channe feel a sense of belonging to any place or culture and she remains an outsider for both the societies. She is not sure whether she is French or American. The story begins portraying the young Channe playing with a young friend in Long Island, U.S.A. Even as a child, she is portrayed as the girl who does not let herself being disturbed by any sort of grief, sorrows or miseries of life. Moreover, she believes that a soldier’s daughter is as heroic as the soldier himself and usually, is too strong to easily break down into tears.

Bill Willis is a war hero-turned-author, who becomes bibulous, due to which his health starts deteriorating. He desires to live out his final years in America with his wife, daughter and adopted son- Billy. Channe’s best friend, Francis, who is very effeminate and extravagant towards her, also plays an important role in her life in France. But just like every other character in the story, his role is also very short. The story strictly follows the linearity of time, action and place except when Billy’s biological mother is referred to.

Due to the liberty given to Channe by her father and preaching of sexuality at an early age, she gets into some acts of dissipation with some of her American schoolmates. This was not a normal thing for the other American teens in the school and so she was looked down upon by everyone. Reserved by nature, this introverted girl fails to make friends at school. Just like her brother, Billy, she too faces loneliness in her life and feels most secure within the four walls of her house. The movie’s end is as serene as its beginning.
This French/U.S. film, directed by James Ivory and written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a must watch for those who feel that unlike Asian families, American families have very weak family ties and lack unity. This film is mostly shot in France and U.S.A. in the season of fall, with just some parts of it shot in U.K. It beautifully portrays the lovely city of Paris with its ancient streets, the colonial houses of Europe, the subways of France, the river- Seine and its deserted pathways in the month of fall. It also portrays beauty of the green fields of Long Island, its beaches, big houses, pubs, discos, motels and busy roads.

An absolute contrast in the two cultures of the west is drawn by pointing out every major or minor difference in their societies, households, education system and dressing style. The role of young Channe, who is a fourth-grader, is played by Luisa Conlon and that of a fourteen year-old girl is played by Leelee Sobieski; who efficiently manages to adapt herself into the role of a sexually innocent teen. Kris Kristofferson plays the role of an open-minded, philosophical and benevolent father in it whereas Barbara Hershey plays the role of a colorful and lively mother to Channe and Billy. A cameo role of the French beauty- Virginie Ledoyen is also very significant in the story as she plays the biological mother to Billy, whose slightly less arresting role than Channe is played by Jesse Bradford.

Despite of a major tragic event that takes place towards the end of the film, the aftermath of the incidents seems to resist it effects. Everything takes its usual pace with the course of time. The story ends on a happy and a peaceful note. The film has no earthshaking issue in it but it has a lot to offer to those who relish the careful portrayal of life and an insight into human experiences. There’s a lot of extra-ordinariness in the ordinary incidents shown taking place in the lives of its characters.

Aditi Swami

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