CINEMA depicting wars of all sorts and points in history is not in any way a new thing. But it’s rare we get one quite as contemplative as this latest offering from acclaimed French director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men).

We’re transported back more than a century to the First World War, with a startling opening scene set in 1915 which slowly pans over soldiers wearing gas masks strewn dead in a muddy field. However, apart from one slow-motion scene later on showing what led to that image, the chaos of war is illustrated as the inner emotional turmoil and brave perseverance of those at home.

We jump forward a year to the contrasting but thematically comparative image of tough matriarch Hortense (Nathalie Baye) ploughing the field of the small family farm in rural Limousin, France, which she has been left to look after while her son is off fighting.

Since it’s too much work for her and her daughter Solange (Baye’s real life daughter Laura Smet), she decides to hire dutiful 20-year-old orphan Francine (Iris Bry).

For a while, things go along as well as can be expected in a time of war. But life gets even more complicated when Francine, seen as being from a lower class than the family for whom she works, catches the eye of Solange’s husband Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin), which in Hortense’s eyes besmirches her family name. Beauvois’s film is slow-moving – everyday drama painted with beautiful brush strokes. But it’s one that rewards patience with affecting performances, a sumptuous visual style thanks to Caroline Champetier’s remarkable cinematography and rich explorations of longing, coping, community and change – whether personal and societal, subtle or grand.

It give us a fascinating and beautifully staged insight into life on the home front, of the women left behind who are brave in their own right. Images such as Hortense – devastatingly played by Baye – having to watch her visiting son head off back on the road to war, unsure if she’ll ever see him again, have a sobering, lingering quality. The film speaks to a courage that these women exhibited in carrying on and doing their best to cope and maintain life as it was.

It’s a historical story told with confidence and skill that doesn’t rely on a heavy score to tell you how to feel; deafening silence makes up most of the film’s haunting soundscape. Informed with subtlety and reflective thoughtfulness, it is a powerful and emotional experience that entrenches us in the textured lives of compelling characters and shines a light on an aspect of wartime drama rarely explored.