Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge

During her lifetime, Marie Curie was seen as an anomaly, not a pioneer. Writer/director Marie Nöelle (The Anarchist’s Wife) and co-screenwriter Andrea Stoll capture this in their fragmentary biopic set between 1905 and ’11, when Curie’s legacy was far from assured despite her major achievements. It opens and closes with Nobel ceremonies: Marie (Karolina Gruszka) travels to Stockholm with husband Pierre (Charles Berling) to accept a shared physics prize (after giving birth to their second daughter), and Curie returns to receive a solo medal for chemistry after setbacks and scandal.

Nöelle’s portrait is untidy and jittery, her Marie methodical and impetuous. To judge by the dialogue, all that concerned Curie was science and love (Pierre offered both); there’s little reference to all that she had to overcome to pursue her work, which included developing the theory of radioactivity and initiating its medical use. Madame Curie was an outsider, born Maria Sklodowska in Poland (her nickname was Mania), and held progressive beliefs that put her at odds with Parisian society.

But Nöelle’s biggest concern is reclaiming Marie as a woman, and she uses nudity as a reminder of the female body beneath Curie’s utilitarian clothing. In photographs, the real-life Curie wore a dour expression and appeared nearly asexual. Here she’s a mercurial woman dealing with personal trials and professional obstacles, more concerned with finding passion and achieving her goals than being a role model. Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge is essentially a swooning romance, with science as the binding energy.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on June 30, 2017 by The Society for Arts – Society Films
First published in The Village Voice, 2017.