A dark tale of working-class life in Marseilles, a city in crisis. Interesting characters include a hard-bitten but compassionate fish market worker with a drug addicted daughter and a ...
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A dark tale of working-class life in Marseilles, a city in crisis. Interesting characters include a hard-bitten but compassionate fish market worker with a drug addicted daughter and a moody bartender with a shocking secret life. Written by
This is a production not so much of the French film industry as the Marseille `film co-operative' headed by Robert Guédiguian (`Marius et Jeanette', `A la place du cour'). The same group have been making low-budget films on the theme of working class life for 20 years, and on the evidence of this one they are just getting better. What distinguishes their films is not so much the left wing viewpoint mixed with obscure French philosophy (sorry M. Foucault) both of which are present, but an interesting combination of super-realist, almost documentary presentation and a decidedly melodramatic storyline.
In this film Ariane Ascaride plays a woman in her late thirties, old before her time, who is the sole support of her family (hubby has been out of work for three years). She toils by night in the fish markets, but this is not enough. Her 16 year old daughter, Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier) has already both a baby and a serious heroin addiction. After finding her daughter doing oral sex for money in the living room of their tiny flat, Michèle goes on the game herself, with no great success, although she does enlist the rather dopey Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a docker turned taxi-diver, as a regular customer. She turns to an old acquaintance, Gérard (Gérard Meylan), to supply her with heroin for Fiona. Meanwhile, Viviane (Christine Brucher), a drama teacher from a more refined neighbourhood, becomes involved with Abderramane, (Alexandre Ogou) a young black ex-con she had met while teaching a group of prisioners. Needless to say, things do not go smoothly. The storylines are topped and tailed by the quest of a Armenian immigrant boy for a decent piano to match his precocious talent.
The film is beautifully crafted; the various stories are brought together in a powerful and shocking conclusion. The scenes between mother and daughter are painful to watch, but justifiably so. Their situation is really not much to do with politics and Foucault, after all drugs plague the middle class as well, but Michèle has only her daughter. Pitched against the personal tragedy there is the plight of the workers as a whole; cast out of employment by mechanisation on the docks they are driven into the arms of the neo-fascists, to whom, of course, they are mere cannonfodder. But the political viewpoint of the film is suggestive rather than strident, more a background to the personal dramas than the main theme, which what happens to personal relationships when put under unbearable pressure.
Despite the drama and tragedy, there is some subtle humour in the film. Where a flashback sequence is required at one point the director uses a clip from a movie made by him 20 years ago which happens to feature the same actors. There is the bumbling but kind-hearted cabbie, his retired left-wing parents and Michèle's husband to provide some amusement also. The look and feel of Marseille is conveyed beautifully; this reviewer last visited the place 25 years ago and got the distinct feeling that the tatty but colourful town of those days is now distinctly uglier and a great deal more dangerous. Guédiguian, however, has not given up on the place and he and his troupe continue to tell compelling stories of Marseille life.
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