Tous les matins du monde (1991)
It's late 17th century. The viola da gamba player Monsieur de Sainte Colombe comes home to find that his wife died while he was away. In his grief he builds a small house in his garden into which he moves to dedicate his life to music and his two young daughters Madeleine and Toinette, avoiding the outside world. Rumor about him and his music is widespread, and even reaches to the court of Louis XIV, who wants him at his court in Lully's orchestra, but Monsieur de Sainte Colombe refuses. One day a young man, Marin Marais, comes to see him with a request, he wants to be taught how to play the viola.
- The film begins with a long plan-sequence lasting six minutes on the old, decrepit face of Marin Marais (Gérard Depardieu) who is conducting a master class. As he asks for a viol and starts playing, with tears in his eyes he recalls his old teacher, Monsieur de Sainte Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle), and his apparent own failure as a musician in his shallow life: I am an impostor, and I am worth nothing. This hint of fraud focuses the viewer toward a possible secret to be discovered, recalling the rivalry between Salieri and Mozart in the film Amadeus (1984). Because the story is presented as a flashback, it is tinged with sadness and culpable nostalgia.
Following the death of his beloved wife (Caroline Sihol), Sainte Colombe retires to his country estate, into a life of austerity and isolation. He dedicates his life to the upbringing of his two young daughters, Madeleine (Violaine Lacroix) and Toinette (Nadège Teron), and personally conducts their musical education. He has a small wooden hut built in his garden, where he withdraws to play his viol and wallows in the souvenirs of his dead wife. From time to time, when his playing is particularly good, she appears to him. As the daughters reach their teens, Madeleine and Toinette (now interpreted by Anne Brochet and Carole Richert, respectively) have become accomplished viol players themselves, and performances by the Sainte Colombe trio are heavily in demand. Following his attendance at one of these performances, Monsieur de Caignet (Yves Gasc), a member of King Louis XIVs inner circle, recommends Sainte Colombe to the King, but the artist, in harsh words, declines the royal privilege to the dismay of the Kings envoy.
One day, nineteenyear-old Marin Marais (Guillaume Depardieu) shows up at Sainte Colombes door, requesting that he be accepted as a pupil. In spite of an impressive audition, the Master rejects him, to the great disappointment of both Madeleine and Toinette. In a short but cold and biting pronouncement, Sainte Colombe tells him to go to play at the Court, where his undeniable talent will be most appreciated, but he, Marais, will never know what real music is all about, and what it means to be a musician: You make music, Monsieur, you are not a musician. Nevertheless, Sainte Colombe tells Marais to come back in one month. After that time, Marais returns and he becomes Sainte Colombes pupil, for at least a short while, until the Masters next temper tantrum, following which he is told to leave and never return.
Madeleine helps Marais by secretly teaching him all that her father has taught her, and in the process, becomes his mistress. Although Marais has returned to Versailles, with Madeleines help, he is able to hide beneath the wooden shack to which Sainte Colombe retreats at night to play and reminisce about his beloved wife. He listens to the Masters improvisations and learns his technique. Eventually, Sainte Colombe discovers the pair under the hut listening, and this time Marais is banished for good.
Madeleine is pregnant, but Marais, increasingly addicted to the glamour of the Court, soon forgets the Sainte Colombe family. Madeleine delivers a still-born baby, following which, overwhelmed with grief at being abandoned, she falls ill. Sainte Colombe sends for Marais to come to his dying daughters bedside. Marais obliges, but he is cold and distant, even cruel in his remarks. After his departure, Madeleine hangs herself.
Marais realizes that Sainte Colombe was correct in asserting that, in spite of the virtuosity, Marais music is simply empty. He becomes so obsessed with his failing that he again sneaks back at night under the wooden shack to hear Sainte Colombe play, hoping to finally uncover his Masters secrets. However, the Master is so despondent over the loss of his daughter that he no longer plays. Marais waits for three years, spending countless nights in vain under the shack, until one night Sainte Colombe finally plays. Marais reveals himself and Sainte Colombe invites him into his intimacy: Monsieur, could I ask you for a last lesson? to which Sainte Colombe answers, Monsieur, can I attempt a first lesson? Finally, Monsieur de Sainte Colombe will allow himself to enter posterity, as he is now ready to teach Marais and to pass on all his musical knowledge to a next generation.
They play together, and the music acts as a bridge to the present, as Marais is finishing his story to a mesmerized audience. The ghostly image of the now deceased Monsieur de Sainte Colombe appears to him. He tells his pupil, who had become his equal, if not surpassed him, I feel pride in having taught you.