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With: Ariane Ascaride, Julie-Marie Pamantier, Gérard Meylan, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Alexandre Ogou, Christine Brüches
Written by: Robert Guédiguian, Jean-Louis Milesi
Directed by: Robert Guédiguian
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 132
Date: 08/30/2000

The Town Is Quiet (2000)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Peace and Riot

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The French film The Town Is Quiet arrives in San Francisco with a good amount of acclaim garnered on the East Coast. But though I'm glad that any films from other countries make it to these shores at all, I wouldn't mind trading The Town Is Quiet for some other film that hasn't made it here yet, Chantal Akerman's La Captive, or Jean-Luc Godard's In Praise of Love, for example.

The reason is that The Town Is Quiet plays like a long (132-minute), depressing speech on how horrible the world is today, complaining about universal problems as well as more localized French problems.

Crafted as a multi-character piece similar to Robert Altman's Nashville and Short Cuts and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, The Town Is Quiet follows several misfits around the streets of Marseilles, interspersed with sweeping city vistas.

The central character, the one that sticks in your memory, seems to be Michèle (Ariane Ascaride), a middle-aged woman who works nights in a fish market and returns home to take care of her granddaughter. Her daughter Fiona (Julie-Marie Pamantier) is a strung-out junkie who turns tricks to pay for her habit, and her husband is an alcoholic layabout who has been on the dole for three years.

When Fiona gets too weak to raise her own money and begins to experience serious withdrawal, Michèle takes it upon herself to buy drugs to keep her daughter from suffering. Her supplier is her childhood sweetheart Gérard (Gérard Meylan), who runs a bar and seemingly performs other black market duties (such as assassinations) on the side.

At the same time, a dockworker-turned-cabbie named Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) falls in love with Mich�le without knowing anything about her troubles. (He himself is a strikebreaker who took a payoff and betrayed his union brothers.) She begins to exploit him, providing him with sexual favors for drug money. He lies to his parents, saying that he's in a solid relationship with a nice girl.

In another plotline, A young black man named Abderamane (Alexandre Ogou), recently released from prison, tracks down the choir teacher, Viviane (Christine Brüches), whom he met while she was volunteering in jail. But even though Abderamane longs to change his life, he's still the victim of crippling racism.

It's not hard to see director Robert Guédiguian slipping in his own opinions and social observances, such as drugs, racism, prostitution, unemployment, etc. Other characters gripe about things beyond our reach. Viviane's husband is a supposed liberal who lusts after power and money, and another man complains that the right and the left are becoming too close to one another (a problem we're not having here).

But it seems Guédiguian is banking on these opinions and observances to carry the weight of his film, hoping critics and viewers will pick up on his messages, because that's all he's got. The characters themselves do not really engage us -- they depress us instead of breaking our hearts. Instead, we watch them with a detached glaze usually reserved for the TV news, waiting for a commercial or for this long, long film to finally end.

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