Life Is a Long Quiet River (1988) Poster

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Now out on DVD in France
com-311 April 2003
At last, this little gem of a film is available on DVD (only in French, no subtitles, but it is, in any case, a difficult film to enjoy other than in French), together with 2 hours of additional interviews.

This film is a wicked little satire on the differences (and, below the surface, the similarities) between the bourgeois LeQuesnoy family and the wastrel Groseille family. The artifice used is the switching of two children at birth by the unhappy mistress of the gynaecologist.

For many of the actors and the director, this was their first film, providing a stepping stone for greater things. But "La Vie est un Long Fleuve Tranquille" should not be missed. Many of its little jokes became catchphrases in the France of the eighties and early nineties, so cruelly apt were they.

And do not miss Etienne Chatiliez's later films, particularly "Tatie Danielle" et "Le Bonheur est dans le Pre".

You might not enjoy this film - some people clearly haven't. But I recommend you make the effort to decide for yourself. It will be worth it.
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I personally liked it!
meitschi25 January 2001
I was quite surprised that many commenters didn't appreciate this film at all. I think you have to understand class differences in French society and the film's kind of satire in order to be able to enjoy the film. I personally loved it though I would have expected a real 'catastrophe' at the end. But I nevertheless liked the story and the characters, especially this very ridiculous, 'perfect' bourgeois family. I loved the scene where the father looks at the crying, completely desperate mother and the only thing that comes to his mind is to tell her: "Comme vous êtes belle ce soir!" (How beautiful you are this evening!)

Probably Americans are not so familiar with this kind of black, but also at times subtle humor and this is why the reactions were so bad.
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..... but it can become a little funny film
dbdumonteil4 August 2002
June 1987. Lille, in the North of France. Two families live in this big town. On one hand, the "Le Quesnoy", a wealthy family. The father is the manager of "EDF", the mother stays at home and the children are well brought up. On the other hand, the "Groseille" a poor family who lives in a small flat. The father took part in the Algerian War, the mother is listless and the children are delinquents. Apparently, these two families have got nothing in common. However, twelve years ago, two children have been exchanged by a nurse who was left by her lover. They will be given back to their real families..... .....and it won't be easy. It's Etienne Chatiliez's first film and it's very successful. The description of the two families is satirical and it never falls into the caricature. The "Le Quesnoy" are never showing signs of conceit or hypocrisy, they're even a bit ridiculous. The movie is very strong thanks to its actors who are mostly incredible: of course, the main actors :Hélène Vincent won the César for the best actress in 1989. Her portrait and some of her words are irresistible (it's monday, it's raviolis). Benoit Magimel who fits well in the role of Maurice. He's smart and impish. But the minor actors too: Patrick Bouchitey in his role of ecclesiastic, (The scene in which he sings "Jésus reviens etc..." during a party is absolutely brillant and funny, Daniel Gélin, a wistful doctor and a wicked lover. At last, the screenplay is full of little details or words that score the bull's eye. The best example is when Bernadette's spreading her soup on the table during a dinner which means that she doesn't belong to her family circle. To sum up: one of the funniest movies of the eighties.
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A cleverly devised movie that captures perfectly dark French humor.
bobgask14 June 2002
Unlike the feel good, "everything turns out for the best," "innate human goodness" fluff comedies that we see in the US, this film is based on the proposition that, under pressure, everyone falls to the level of the lowest common denominator.

Years in the past a scorned nurse/lover switched newborns to spite the doctor who was the subject of her ire. When it was revealed, in the present, that these families from opposite sides of the track had each raised the other's son to his early teens, they set about to make it right. After all, there was enough success to go around. Right?

Rather than bringing everyone up to the level of the wealthy politician's family, however, the children (siblings included) become a lot of foul mouthed, cigarette smoking, truants who enjoy their delinquent lives to the fullest. Naturally, the parents follow suit.

No one is immune. The film is a keeper, though the humor is decidedly French and some subtleties are likely lost in the translation.
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pretty darn funny
spud-4126 June 2000
True, this is not the best movie ever made. It is, however, extremely funny. One cannot truly realize why this is such a ridiculous movie until they know the the french culture. It is not a study in the class differences, it is to exaggerate the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. The rich family is so stable it is almost hokey, and the poor family is so dysfunctional that they are almost stable. All of the comments about life are only to exaggerate the situation. I particularly love the scene in the church with the musical, it just goes to show how silly things can be. I don't watch this movie over and over for the plot, I watch it because every time you see it you notice something now that is characteristically French. Personally, I think it is great.
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quality French farce
seb1017 March 2002
Etienne Chatiliez is a director possessing a deft hand for comedy both cruel and subtle: think "Tatie Danielle" for the former and "Le bonheur est dans le pre" for a bit of the latter. La vie est un long fleuve tranquille is a hilarious examination of class-based comedy in the late 80s in France, with the time honoured "baby-switching" plot point to kick things off. Great performances allow a very funny film to sparkle on the screen. Highly recommended.
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A favorite French comedy, and one the funniest films I've seen
toad-119 August 2001
This film is perhaps my favorite French comic film. I have seen it over and over through the years, perhaps 50 times. Having lived in France, I relish it's send-up of two stereotypical French families and their attitudes and interactions with each other as well as with institutions: the church, schools, the medical profession, foreigners among them, etc. As I see it over and over, it is my delight to concentrate on one character or another as they delineate a stereotypical trait. The subtleties are hilarious, yet I can imagine those who have never lived among the French might be bewildered, even turned off.
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Not a bad movie!
polishanya6 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
To me, this movie was all about how life is not a long, tranquil river. Anyone can disturb the peace by a simple action like the nurse did, first by switching the children and later writing to the parents about it. To her it was just an act of revenge towards the doctor, but the consequences were not limited to the doctor. Etienne Chatillier pokes fun at many different issues throughout the movie which is meant to be a comedy. Americans, without knowledge of all these issues, as well as the play on words and other humor aimed at the French, will not enjoy it to its full extent. Nevertheless, anyone will laugh at the doctor swearing scene. (La salope)

Most of the characters seem to be very stereotypical – the Arab shopkeeper, the "poor family", the policemen, the doctor, the "rich family". In fact, the only truly realistic character is Mômo. His many sided character sometimes puzzles the audience. His romantic love for his biological mother, his stealing to help his other family, his spite in revealing the truth to Bernadette, his friendships with the children in both families and his childishness, create a curious mélange. In addition to these basic characters, there is also the priest. He is used to criticize the church and religion in general.

Parenting and upbringing of children is an important theme in this film. The children in the rich family are very polite, intelligent, religious, etc. while the children in the poor family act stupid, are rude and naughty. I noticed that this difference in upbringing was not really substantial because when Mômo became part of the family and introduced "naughty" ideas, the rich children just followed along with enthusiasm. The way they were convinced so easily, shows that their parents hadn't ingrained their education into the children. The only reason why they hadn't done the "naughty" things before was that they hadn't heard of such ideas. Once Mômo supplied them, they dropped all pretence of a higher education, morals, etc. and followed along.

The rich parents' method of dealing with the problems was heavily criticized in the movie. When Bernadette purposefully spilled the soup at the table, they just sat there in silence. They continue using this approach and we see how the children only get wilder and wilder, unrestrained, and with no solution in sight.

I felt that the ending scene fitted in with the movie really well. It summed up the idea that so many problems arise when one person simply pursues their goal, not stopping at anything. The satisfied nurse sitting, victorious, with the doctor completely broken. And this right after seeing how the rich family completely fell apart. A cruel type of humor.

La vie est un long fleuve tranquille is not an American comedy. There are few slapstick moments. Nevertheless, I think many Americans would enjoy this movie. I would definitely appreciate watching it once more.
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No bourges were harmed in the making of this movie (American Humane Society mark of approval)
Karl Self5 August 2010
La vie ... is one of the movies I have rewatched and reliked over a long period of time. Incredibly, this was the first movie for the filmmaker and most of his actors, who nonetheless managed to deliver time-proof quality.

This is a very dark movie which pitches two families against each other - - the ne'er-do-well Grosseilles and the terribly nice Le Quesnoy family of the local electricity works director. As it turns out, a jilted nurse switched their newborns 12 years ago, which might account for the boy's criminal intelligence and the daughter's predilection for dressing up as a tart. Sit back and watch one family squander their fortunes, and the other family fall into social decline.
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A very good film and strong analysis of a part of French society
Sasha018 July 2003
Etienne Chatiliez has produced an excellent film. His analysis of a part of French society (snobbish, ultra catholic and well-thinking) is absolutely realist. You will laugh, smile or hate if you are like them!
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A playfull comedy
krn-22 September 2000
The subject of two children being switched at birth could have easily been the canvas for a melodramatic movie. Instead of that, this work presents a playfull comedy where the clichés of society classes are scrutinized. The laughs are in the details, some dialogs are just memorable. And if the ending might seem a little unsettled, it has the intelligence of leaving questions and conclusions to the spectator about wealth and happiness.
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try and get more reactionary than this
myriamlenys9 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
In a moment of spite, a nurse deliberately exchanges two new-born babies. As a result the two babies grow up in the wrong families. Years later, the nurse writes both families letters confessing the truth, again as a way of getting revenge on her lover...

I'm not saying that this is the worst comedy I've ever seen : it contains little moments of fun and truth, and I found myself smiling or wincing here and there. (For instance there's a little sing-along party, inspired by faith and not by talent, which will be painfully, hilariously familiar to most persons with a Catholic background.) However I don't get its high repute or success. The tone tends to be mean-spirited and the message is pretty toxic, to wit that the poor are wicked.

In this movie, to be (very) poor means to be lazy, irresponsible, dishonest, dissembling, cruel, racist and nasty. Indeed, the taint of poverty is so deep and so disfiguring that it sticks to a person for life, like the mark of Cain. If you, dear reader, were so foolish as to introduce a child reared in poverty into your own home sweet home, the consequences would be atrocious : that child would begin to destroy your family, like ivy suffocating a tree or a wasp eating its paralyzed victim from the inside. Your own children would grow disobedient and rebellious, and their values would fly out of the window. They'd start to drink beer, stuff their faces with cheap comfort food and/or have unprotected sex with unwashed trollops. As a parent, basically, you'd be better off releasing the Dobermans on any child or adolescent from a poverty-stricken background. Bite, Prince, bite !

Now it's possible that a fellow viewer or reviewer might remark that the movie is an equal-opportunity jester, in the sense that it mocks and insults the well-off too. To each his or her own opinion, but I'm not buying it, or I'm not buying too much of it. This stuff is as reactionary and elitist as you can get. It's entirely possible that the late king Louis the XVth had a more inclusive and well-balanced attitude towards the poor.

Finally it needs to be said that the movie doesn't end ; it just stops, like a car running out of gas in a random street. Heaven forbid that a director or a screenwriter should try to create a story which works towards some kind of resolution or climax...
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A very special comedy about family, classes and twisted love...
ElMaruecan8214 October 2016
"Life is a Long Quiet River"… what a magnificently poetic title, it doesn't give much hints about the story except the essential: it's about life, what happens, what is under our control, and the bad we take with the good. That a comedy would inspire such profound thoughts says a lot about the 80's: comedies were more mature and clever, eager to tell a good story with a few laughs rather than a laugh-riot that falls flat.

Etienne Chatillez, who showed his talent as a director-writer of sociologically-themed movies, signed his first little masterpiece about family and clash of classes. "Life is a Long Quiet River" is about two families that couldn't have been more opposite: the Duquesnois and the Groseilles. There's a reality about large families: you've got to be either very rich or very poor to afford many children, and that's exactly the demographic categories the two families fit in. The Duquesnois are the typical Catholic bourgeois with very straitlaced parents, sending their children to private school where they can be taught catechism and good manners. The Groseilles exemplify the 'Beaufs' archetypes, people of modest social upbringing, loudmouth, vulgar, crass, greedy, and no, they don't have a good heart, the film is above these patronizing clichés.

It is true that the Groseilles seem more fun but the Duquesnois aren't ridiculed and that's the first hint of the film's intelligence: it doesn't need to make fun of the characters, they behave naturally and the comedic situations naturally emerge from the story. One of the most memorable moments is the iconic "Jesus, come back" song that has nothing ridiculous about it, but because it's set within the context of a comedy and because the priest, played by Patrick Bouchitey, is so passionately into the music, the scene has become a staple of French comedy, proof that it's all about a good timing. And timing is what the main plot is about, a Doctor dismisses his mistress (also his nurse) during his wife's funeral, indifferent to her cleavage delicately hidden behind black lace.

So she takes her revenge and reveals the truth behind that fateful Christmas night twelve years before, where he rejected her one time too many and she switched the two Duquesnois and Groseille newborns. As the doctor said, they wouldn't start life with the same chances and I wonder if Chatillez wasn't inspired by that scene in "Once Upon a Time in America" where the gangsters switch babies and James Woods' character says something like "We're better than fate. Some we give the good life, others we give it up the ass." That nurse indeed played a dirty trick and the reaction of the doctor (Daniel Gelin) is a classic, he repeats the bitch word several times and it's so cruel we never feel the word is repeated enough, it is realistic yet funny.

And now, let's make a pause, here you have the premise; two babies switched at birth, how are you going to work on that? Any lesser comedy would have gone to the obvious "Trading Places" format, and the film would have gone for cheap gags based on lousy comedy of contrasts between the rich and the poor people, overused at the expense of realism and common sense. But Chatillez thinks realistically and doesn't go for the obvious to make the audience laugh, he cares for his characters a little more and that's the respect a director owes his audience. So he asks the simple question: what would a poor family do if they knew their boy was connected to a rich one? And why would a girl raised in wealth and comfort be transferred to a lesser standard of life? The film reveals its genius in one of its most famous shots.

Momo Groseille, who should have been Maurice Duquesnois has just been told the truth, he's played by a young Benoit Magimel and he's obviously startled by the news, he looks at his family staring at him like the new outsider but then he recovers from the surprise and in the most deadpan and natural way, says that they can make money out of it. And as to make up for the 'loss' of Momo, the Duquesnois give money to the Groseilles, the father (André Wilms) is no fool, he knows what the Groseilles are into but he does it for Momo's good and this is the best thing about the film, it has a sweetness of its own. And it paints a very touching family portrait of the two families, and perhaps the most touching character is Marielle Duquesnois, the mother, played by Hélène Vincent.

I don't think I have enough kind words for her but she's a sweet and responsible mother who cares for her children, telling them that Momo was adopted not to upset Bernadette, who is the Groseilles' daughter. The movie doesn't focus much on Bernadette except on some specially heartbreaking moments where she meets her family and when she tries to escape, the film tactfully tries not to make fun of all the situations and reckons the dramatic potential of the story. A similar moment occurs when Momo watches his mother in the bathroom. And he's like hypnotized, he feels in love, this is not a love of lust but of unconscious Oedipal attraction, and it's understandable as long as we accept that she's not supposed to be his mother, but the scene shows that Chatillez pushes his concept as far as he can as long as it feels real, which it does.

Chatillez makes a little rushed out third act concluding with a series of disjointed events showing that the experience changed the two families, there's a feeling of unfinished result that might disconcert the viewers, but after all, the story didn't have to have a proper ending, just like a long quiet river doesn't have to end somewhere…
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is a very good movie.
Tyler D.-325 August 2000
I'm french and I really enjoyed this movie.It shows how the upper class lives in a world of lies, how everything is based on appearance, on what you look like and not on who you really are. This movie is really one of the most funny french movies done in the last decades. You can't watch how the "Groseilles" live without laugh.I watch it when I was 10 years old and since then I like it.
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Enjoyable black humor
psychosrnk1 December 2001
This movie will warm part of your black heart. We get to see the set up for the reason that two families, which in reality exist in two worlds which never interact, are forced into contact. When the "good" family finds out about their switched child, they seek to recover the child from the "bad" family and raise it in their home along with their other children, natural and switched. Their life quickly deteriorates with numerous misfortunes and confrontations. Towards the end, the "good" mother is seen belting down scotch in the kitchen, her older son comforts her with the tag line "Mom,life is not a river quietly flowing." Many funny scenes and embarrassing situations. If you liked The tall blond many with one black shoe, give this little movie an opportunity.
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An offbeat movie!
Fefounista12 November 2018
Funny critic of social differences in the north of France during the late 80's. First apparition of Benoit Magimel in a movie, amazing to see him that young! The acting of all the kids involved is remarkable!
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Cult movie
thespira21 March 2018
This first feature of Étienne Chatilliez is litterally cult in France. Like Les bronzés everybody knows the lines and some are really cult. These two families on the opposite side of the social ladder represent a France that still exist today.
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one rotten apple spoils the barrel, so forth
mjneu591 December 2010
Meet the Groseille family, every upscale parent's living nightmare and no doubt the shabbiest collection of trash outside of a John Waters film. Compare them to the Le Quesnoy household on the other side of the tracks: respectable, comfortably privileged, and soon to have their upper crust complacency shattered when a long-lost son, raised by the wayward Groseilles, returns home to corrupt his true family.

The film is a mixed bag, at best a mildly amusing social satire mocking the pretensions of a bourgeois yuppie lifestyle, but it's never clear if the prodigal son's lack of class is genetic or environmental: in other words, is the kid rotten because of his blue-collar upbringing or his white-collar breeding? The scenario also lacks the mean streak this kind of story needs. Except for the exploding car in the pre-credit prologue (a tremendous hook, barely acknowledged afterward) the film is perhaps too faithful to its title: long and quiet instead of short and nasty.
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Dries Gevaert20 July 2000
This could have been done WAY better. This is the story: Two babies are switched at birth, one from an upper middleclass family and one from a lower class family, because of a jealous nurse. Twelve years later the mystery is discovered and the upper class family buys their kid back. This lame plot isn't worked out at all, and some minor storylines are just forgotten near the end. By the way, what the hell was the meaning of the very last scene ???? There are some serious things wrong with this movie.

Acting isn't very good either, but it isn't bad. Benoît Magimel, the kid who plays Maurice, did some nice things, and Jean-Brice Van Keer was good too. But then again, some other people didn't act at all: Daniel Gelin (the doctor), Patric Bouchitey (the priest), ...

Mostly I don't say anything about the music, but this time it really beats everything. HORRIBLE! TASTELESS! OFF-KEY! Unbelievable

Of course there are some good things about this movie, especially how the two families are brought into screen and how one family falls apart when someone from the other family comes to live with them. But in general, this is a huge stinker. 4/10
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a VERY bad movie
Loophole-312 October 1999
This movie lacks plot and quality. Maybe I lost something my seeing it in English subtitles. The sex scene was disgusting. It made little sense to me. Sure the movie was about the class differences in France between the upper middle class and the lower class, but it was presented so poorly. I have seen good French films, and this is not one of them. The main thing this movie lacks above all else is entertainment value. It's just not there. The music at the opening is stupid. The part about the doctor and the nurse it totally dropped after a point, and then it just shifts gears and leaves you hanging. You wonder what happens. This a bad movie, don't see it.
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