I once told a peer that I was writing about Bresson's treatment of women, to which she made a sour face and said, "Brutal." For her Une Femme Douce was most brutal of all. The film begins with the titular gentle woman's suicide, a leap from her balcony, and ends with her coffin being screwed firmly shut. Her life, available only in flashback, is seen as closed, contained, and tight, as the woman (Dominique Sanda) looks down from behind a fence or a gate or window or glass door. She doesn't even have the right to tell her own story; like the Dostoevsky tale on which it's based, the film locks us into her obsessive and paranoid husband's (Guy Frangin) perspective.
Yet freedom also breathes through this enclosed, silent, flatly colored and seemingly airless world. We don't see the body land, only a scarf fluttering in the wind. The woman leaps forward onto her bed energetically at night in tune with the sound of television. An evening out at the theater, perhaps, shows pleasure on her face. And that perhaps, that uncertainty, is key, because no matter how much her man tries to control and possess her, he can and will never know her thoughts.
The unknown can possess a great deal of freedom. The film shows an oppressive world onscreen, but also shows its leading lady looking off towards somewhere else. She escapes from this world, and that's a good thing. It's easy to think of the coffin door closing, and find the film too constricting; I think of that scarf floating in the wind and of how, for all we know, it never came down.