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TOWN IS QUIET, THE (Ville est tranquille, La)(director/writer/producer: Robert Guediguian; screenwriter: Jean-Louis Milesi; cinematographer: Bernard Cavalié; editor:Bernard Sasia; music: Janis Joplin; cast: Ariane Ascaride (Michele), Julie-Marie Parmentier (Fiona), Gerard Meylan (Gerard), Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Paul), Jacques Boudet (Paul’s Father), Pascale Roberts (Paul’s Mother), Jacques Pieiller (Yves), Christine Brucher (Viviane), Alexandre Ogou (Abderamane), Pierre Banderet (Claude), Philippe Leroy (René), Julien Sevan Papazian (Young pianist), Véronique Balme (Ameline); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; New Yorker Films; 2000-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Too trying and unwieldy to keep my attention.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Town is Quiet presents a number of intersecting characters and subplots touching on numerous topical issues such as racism, globalization, jobs, prostitution, violence, family dysfunction, immigration, nationalism, fascism and drug abuse. It reminded me of Robert Altman’s ensemble dramas Nashville and Short Cuts in style and John Sayles’ City of Hope in its leftist politics, but failed to be as engaging as either in its dramatics. The social drama is set in the southern port French city of Marseilles. Robert Guediguian (“Marius and Jeanette”) is director and co-writer with Jean-Louis Milesi of this bleak tale about the human condition of France’s working-class community. The director shows himself to be most sympathetic of the workers plight, but in the end believes only music can bring people together and break down all the barriers that divide them. The film’s one optimistic note is a young piano prodigy (Papazian) immigrant from Georgia, playing a classical piece on the piano in his immigrant neighborhood that even gets the interest of the anti-immigration piano movers.

The film centers on Michele (Ariane Ascaride, wife of the director), a woman in her late thirties with a streak of martyrdom running through her, who works nights as a packer at a fish market while supporting her long-time unemployed alcoholic hostile husband (Banderet), her heroin-addicted and trick turning teen-age daughter Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and a three month old granddaughter born out of wedlock.

Unable to prevent her daughter’s life-threatening addiction, Michelle seeks help from her childhood boyfriend Gerard (Gerard Meylan), a glum owner of a small bar, who uses his underworld connections to score a weekly supply of smack for her daughter. His secret agenda, also reveals him to be a political assassin. By accident on the road Michelle meets nice-guy thirtysomething bachelor cabbie Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), and their relationship continues when she takes over her out of commission daughter’s job of turning tricks to pay for the dope. Paul is a former dockworker tired of the endless strikes and turns his back on fellow unionists to take the redundancy money offered. He just bought his own cab with help provided by his loving parents (Pascale Roberts & Jacques Boudet), but is now stuck with a large debt and the loss of his taxi permit over some minor infractions. The other subplot of woe involves the fortyish unhappily married blonde music therapist for the challenged, Viviane (Christine Brucher). Her revolting hubby is a womanizing leftist (Jacques Pieiller), who is a phony pretending to care about causes when all he cares about is power. Viviane impulsively starts an affair with a sensitive black North African waiter (Alexandre Ogou) she met while teaching in prison. The released ex-con confronts racial prejudice in both his family and from the white community, as he seeks to trade in his gangsta rap lifestyle for a more beneficial social activist role.

All the lives of the characters, who seem more symbolic than real, have intense urban experiences that lead to disturbing results. The film paints a sweeping picture of the upper-class establishment unhappy with changing social conditions such as abortion; the working-class are equally as unhappy over their economic struggle and who are voting increasingly for the right even though it goes against their self-interest, mainly because of their growing bias against the immigrants; while the immigrants dream of a better life in their new country.

The film’s most powerful scene had Michele simultaneously prepare a fix of heroin for her enfeebled daughter and heat her granddaughter’s baby formula, as their screams for mommy mingle into identical cries for help.

Everything seemed so manipulated and brought together in such a shamelessly dishonest way to show how meaningless and cheap life has become. The filmmaker makes it appear that the country might be on the verge of a moral and economic collapse because it lost its ideals and seems to be running only on raw emotion. Since none of the characterizations had enough of a sustaining power to carry the narrative forward with fluidity, it all turned out plodding and awkwardly presented–any real emotion was drained out of it. The story covers so much territory that it never can properly connect all the dots. Only when Janis Joplin was heard singing “Cry Baby” in the background was there ever a twinge of real excitement. Since The Town is Quiet breaks no new ground in what it reveals, I found it all a little too trying and unwieldy to keep my attention. If it narrowed all these concerns down and stuck to telling about only a few, the film would have probably worked a lot better.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”