La Ville Est Tranquille (2000) – movie review

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Movie Review by Susannah Macklin

Starring: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gerard Meylan

Director: Robert Guediguian

Set against the serene backdrop of Marseille in the year 2000, LA VILLE EST TRANQUILLE is as gritty underneath as it is shiny on the surface. An intertwining story where people who think they couldn’t be more different, couldn’t be more wrong.

Looking after her drug addicted daughter is a sacrifice Michele is prepared to make, even if it means prostituting herself and dealing with undesirables in the process. Undesirables who each also have their own story to tell in this tale of bitter and twisted lives.

Michele (Ariane Ascaride) is the tired but hopeful mother of the heroin dependent daughter, whose everyday is a stark battle in a war against the realities of the world. Mother will do anything for suffering daughter including getting the money to feed the addiction that is making both lives so painful. Meanwhile calmer stories mill around in the background but each with a slightly sinister undertone, serving to show that all our destinies are inextricably interlinked. Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is an ex-docker who has given up fighting for the cause for something better – but life isn’t quite as great for him as he’d have his elderly parents believe. Gerard (Gerard Meylan) runs a bar by day but what is he involved in by night?

Ascaride puts in a superb performance as a pained, desperate and loyal mother, fighting a losing battle as the story unfolds around her. Robert Guediguian’s cut-to-the-quick direction supports such performances – sparing nothing in making its point- while skillfully managing to spring a few surprises from both characters and scenarios. However, sometimes being too gritty can grate, and in the drug related scenes it certainly does. In addition to this some of the characters with lesser stories get heavily overshadowed and as is the case with many pulp tales as they unfold, some stories are just not that interesting.

In keeping with some of the more successful French films of the last year or so – HARRY, HE’S HERE TO HELP (UK) aka WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY (USA) to name just one – LA VILLE EST TRANQUILLE gives us enough black comedy and cynicism to provide the required hook. Though the story is often awkward and sometimes painful to watch, if you don’t mind the harshness of it, it makes for necessary viewing.

3 out of 6 stars