The Town is Quiet (2000)

“I’ve only slept with those I’ve loved.”

In Robert Guediguian’s dark film The Town is Quiet (La Ville est Tranquille) Marseilles is seen as a troubled city through the bleak, desperate lives of its working-class inhabitants. Michele (Ariane Ascaride) works the evening shift at a fish market and single-handedly supports her terminally unemployed husband, her heroin-addicted daughter Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and her baby granddaughter. When her daughter’s habit spirals out-of-control, Michele strikes up a relationship with lonely taxi diver, Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), and she also reaches out to childhood friend, Gerard (Gerard Meylan).

Mixed into the medley is pretentious bourgeois intellectual, Yves (Jacques Pieiller), his wife Viviane (Christine Brucher) and Abderramane (Alexandre Ogou), her former student.

Just how the lives of various characters connect is the focus of this slice of Marseilles working-class life. With strong political overtones, the film paints a portrait of a city plagued with poverty, racial tensions, fascism, and the insidious effects of drug-dependency. Most of the characters lead lives of compromise–trading away values for survival. Even bourgeois Viviane, who’s repelled by her husband, avoids him and ploughs herself into her work rather than pull the plug on their long-dead marriage. In her case, remaining with her husband seems to be more inertia than necessity.

Paul’s father (Jacques Boudet) espouses strong political beliefs, but these fade during the course of the film. Times have changed according to Paul’s father, and things have changed for the worst. Feeling betrayed by left-wing politics, he notes that left and right now mingle together socially and while their policies may appear different, both sides treat the common people “like animals.” And he notes that he will never vote again. The father abandons politics and the hope of reform and instead embraces despair and pragmatism.

Guediguian directed Marius and Jeanette–a rather uninteresting film also set in Marseilles. The Town is Quiet has a great deal more substance than this earlier film, and makes some strong comments about Marseilles society. In French with subtitles.

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