Daniel Vigne’s Le Retour de Martin Guerre – The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)

I watched a lot of movies with Gérard Depardieu. Not always because I wanted to, often because he was automatically cast in each and every bigger French production. Still, there are a few I haven’t seen yet and The Return of Martin Guerre or Le Retour de MartinGuerre was one of them. I thought it might be a good choice for Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris In July and so I watched it last week.

There are a lot of things I liked about this movie that is based on a true story that happened in France in the 16th century. The cinematography is stunning, the music by Michel Portal is really great, Depardieu is good and the lovely Nathalie Baye is wonderful. Last but not least I found out when watching this that the US movie Sommersby with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster is a remake of The Return of Martin Guerre.

In a medieval little village in France two young people get married. One couldn’t say that they get along well. The boy, Martin Guerre, is not exactly a good or tender husband, on the very contrary. It seems that married life is just too much for him. One day he runs off and doesn’t come back anymore.

Nine years later, a grown man arrives in the village and is enthusiastically greeted as Martin Guerre by everyone. Finally the runaway has returned to wife and family. Everybody recognizes him, welcomes him and he knows them all as well. He knows each and every little detail of their past life. Still they are aware that he has changed a lot. He tells them that he has been at war these past nine years and that he has seen a lot of awful things. Maybe war has made him a better man? He is joyful, easy-going and very gentle with his wife. The relationship they have is completely different from what they had before. They enjoy each other’s company and are very much in love. Others are affected by this happiness as well. It seems that the return of Martin Guerre changed everybody’s life for the better. Soon there will be a second child and things would be perfect if Martin did not decide to ask his uncle for money.

From this moment on, things change drastically. People start to say that he is not Martin Guerre. He is dragged into court but declared innocent. As soon as he is out there are new accusations and new proofs. The movie turns into a court room drama. He is acquitted again and accused once more.

Knowing that this is a true story and seeing the outcome is quite heartbreaking. It is also shown how great the influence of the Church is and how superstitions arise. At one point there is talk of the devil and of black magic. People really do not know whether it is him or not, everybody is confused.

Vigne’s movie is highly watchable and I liked especially how the music, the pictures and the story go hand in hand and complete each other.

I’m sorry for this blurred trailer. On top of that I couldn’t find the one with the English subtitles but the movie is available with English subtitles. At least you can hear a bit of Portal’s music.

20 thoughts on “Daniel Vigne’s Le Retour de Martin Guerre – The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)

    • I can’t remember Sommersby at all. I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of it being a remake. I have not seen one US remake of a French movie that was better than the original.
      This movie surprised me. No idea why it took me so long to watch it.

  1. I watched this years ago and really liked it. I also saw Sommersby, oddly enough (I watch very few films compared to most people). But like you, I felt that the French was the one that nailed it.

    • I have completely forgotten the ending of Sommersby but seem to vaguely remember that is wasn’t tragic like this one. It is also set during another period. I liked that it was set in 16th century France.

      • I was lucky as I watched Sommersby first and then tracked down the French version. I normally stay away from remakes. Don’t know why Hollywood is addicted to making remakes–after all the originals are normally really good films and so any remakes are a challenge.

        • I have no idea why I had never heard of Sommersby being a remake.
          The story telling is differet and from what I hear occasionally, many Americans just like it the American way better plus reading subtitles is not everyone’s thing. On the other hand that is far better than how it is handled in Germany where every movie is synchronized. You can’t go to the cinema and see the original movie subtitled. We are better of in Switzerland where every movie has at least German and French subtitles and no dubbed versions.

    • I thought that Jodie Foster and Richard Gere looked silly together. Apart from the basic story the movies are so different. I’m glad I discovered I finally discovered this version.

  2. This movie sounds very good. I saw Sommersby several years ago and I thought it was okay. I think this movie sounds better and I’m always looking for good movie recommendations.
    I like Gerard Depardieu but I haven’t seen him in that many movies but I haven’t seen many French movies, either!

    • If you don’t mind reading subtitles, I can really recommend French movies. There are many great ones. I liked this one, I thought it transported you to 16th century France and the music is special. It is quite tragic.

    • SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO WATCH IT!
      ********************************************************************
      He isn’t Martin Guerre and his wife knew it but she fell in love with him so didn’t say but the uncle didn’t want to give him the money, tracked the real Martin Guerre down (who had no intention of ever returning to his wife and son because he didn’t love them). The fake Martin was hanged. It’s a true story. Very sad.

      • I checked out all the links I could find on site, and it seems that in English subtitle form, you have to pay for all views. But it’s possible to get the film from amazon.co.uk, amazon.fr, and amazon.com. Whatever else you do or don’t see, this film is definitely worth it. Even if you have to trek down to the local old-fashioned video store to rent it, it’s worth it. Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye are sterling.

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