It's possible that I missed the odd nuance or three that may have shed some light on why a dyed-in-the-wool communist like Guediguian should choose for his latest film to give us his take on the Nativity. Those with long memories will recall how the total abhorrence of the communist for the Christian informed a whole slew of Don Camillo novels and at least one great movie so how does Guediguian reconcile the two? Alas, I can't help you there, what I can do is recommend without reservation this latest addition to his ouevre. I used to think of Marseille, if I thought of it at all, as primarily the place where Yves Montand spent his childhood and where he did his first gigs in the late thirties. Supplementary to this it was where Marcel Pagnol set his great trilogy and where Montand returned in Trois place pour le 26th but for the last decade or so it has been the location of the Robert Guediguian Repertory company, led by his wife, Ariane Ascaride and her two leading men, Gerard Meylan and Jean-Pierre Darroussin with Pascale Roberts, Jacques Boudet and Christine Brucher adding strength and depth. Unlike Ken Loach, who is so obsessed with getting his message across that he forgets to first entertain Guediguian always gives us a first rate story and if the price we have to pay is about half a reel of let's hear it for the oppressed, downtrodden workers, then we are happy to do so. These actors have played together so many times and in so many permutations that they could phone it in by now but they still continue to give 110 per cent. This could well be the year of the feet in French cinema; Patrice Leconte began Confidences trop intimes with a traveling shot of a pair of feet that turned out to belong to Sandrine Bonnaire and here Guediguian starts on TWO pairs of feet and an impression of a pair of Arabs. Eventually we see Darroussin, bizarrely dressed in Arab clothing and Ascaride looking fatigued and toting two or three large bundles, moving slowly, silently, through a concrete wasteland and stopping at last outside what looks suspiciously like a lock-up garage. Darroussin pounds on the door, a couple of clochards tell him to take a hike whereupon Ascaride collapses and Darroussin explains that she is slightly enceinte. By now these images plus an Arabic soundtrack reminiscent of The Hairdresser's Husband sets us to thinking, no room at the inn? No, can't be. On the other hand ... Then we see Darroussin and Ascaride in normal life, paediatricians with a strong sense of community to the extent that Ascaride is active in social work. Then, inexplicably, she appears semi-comatose and incapable of speech. It is tempting to read into her fantastically expressive face that in repose resembles nothing so much as Harpo Marx, a metaphor combining muteness with socialism but that's the way this film takes you. Ascaride gets better with every performance and is one of the best examples of the less-is-more school. Robert de Niro has been praised extravagantly for putting on about three tons to play Jake La Motta, but a REAL actor could make you BELIEVE he weighed as much as a small house. Ascaride is far from beautiful but she IS a great actress and she can make you BELIEVE she's beautiful as she does at some point in every film she plays in. This is a more than worthy addition to the Geuediguian collection. 9/10
7 of 11 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?