La Ville Est Tranquille

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Marseille is a city of opposites. On the one hand it gave its name to the left-wing solidarity song of the workers, The Marseilleise, and, on the other, it has, since the rise of neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen, become a stronghold of the French National Front. Increasingly disillusioned by a socialist government's tightening of social service budgets, disenfranchised by the closure of the docks and angry with the sizeable Algerian populace, workers have abandoned the traditional left in droves.

It is against this backdrop that Robert Guediguian sets his compelling film. And if Jean-Pierre Jeunet's romance, Amelie, is the epitomy of joie de vivre in modern France, then the tale of her near namesake, baby Ameline, in the 'schemes' of Marseille, is the flipside of the centime.

Beginning with a wide panoramic shot of the city, Guediguian invites us to use our eyes, but it is only when we become involved with the lives of the many characters that we truly begin to see.

Michelle (Ariane Ascaride) packs fish each night and, on her return home, faces the reality of a heroin-addicted daughter, Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and illegitimate granddaughter, Ameline, along with her redundant husband, who has abdicated all familial responsibility in favour of taking up residence at the bottom of a bottle.

In another part of town Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), also made redundant from the docks, plies his trade as a taxi driver, while living a lonely life, populated only by the fictions he tells his stalwart left-wing parents over Sunday lunch.

In the third strand of the tale we meet Vivianne (Christine Brucher), a music teacher and idealist who teaches special needs children and helps with prison workshops. We watch as she strikes up an unlikely relationship with an Algerian (Alexandre Ogou), who is waging his own personal war against prejudice amongst his own community.

Guediguian combines these and several other plot elements and characters beautifully, weaving a modern tale of disillusionment in a dog-eat-dog world. There is love, both familial and romantic, but there is also the seamier underbelly of prostitution and right-wing hatred, which mars all it touches. This is a complex film which aims not to show how abhorrent reactionary politics is, but how seductive it may sound to a community tearing itself apart from within.

These seemingly disparate people become part of the same story. Guediguian has such a lightness of touch and each of the characters such individual integrity that the connections never appear contrived. Whilst dark in content, Guediguian never loses sight of the joy that even the smallest act of kindness can bring, which is conveyed in every scene. You cannot fail to be as moved by a boy playing the piano, as you are by the sight of Fiona going cold turkey, while her mother and baby look on.

The film, like its excellent score, reaches a stunning climax. If seeing is believing, then Guediguian will have many converts after this.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2001
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The struggles of a working class family in Marseille.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Robert Guediguian

Writer: Jean-Louis Milesi, Robert Guediguian

Starring: Ariane Ascaride, Pierre Banderet, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Jacques Boudet, Pascale Roberts, Geraard Meylan

Year: 2000

Runtime: 133 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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