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.

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais – Someone I Loved (2009) The Movie Based on Anna Gavalda’s Novel

I wasn’t aware of this movie until I read about it on Guy Savage’s second blog Phoenix Cinema. I liked Anna Gavalda’s short story collection I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere (Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende quelque part) and her subsequent novel Someone I Loved (Je l’aimais) a great deal and was looking forward to watch the movie.

Zabou Breitman’s Je l’aimais or Someone I Loved is a very subtle, touching movie and the main actors are amazing, all three of them.

At the beginning we don’t really know what happened. Pierre (Daniel Auteuil), Chloë’s father-in-law, drives her and her two kids to their holiday house, near Annecy. It’s quite cold, the mountains look bleak, there is a constant drizzle and the young woman is crying during the whole trip. At the same time she emanates a fierceness. She seems desperate, wounded and angry at the same time. Florence Loiret Caille plays the wounded woman with such intensity, it’s painful to watch, we forget that it is a movie and think that we are really watching someone in distress and pain.

Once arrived in the little house, the girls start watching TV non-stop, Chloë cries and Pierre tries to take care of them. For a while, it works more or less, they hardly talk, keep politely distant but then Chloë has a break out and shouts and screams and tells Pierre she can’t take it any longer, these polite silences, the way how in their family they always remain silent, never talk and that this silence is precisely the reason why she never saw it coming. She never even expected that her husband had a mistress, she wasn’t prepared to be left like this, without forewarning.

This outburst, the honesty and directness move Pierre and he starts to talk. First he tells Chloë about his brother who died very young after having served in Indochina and later he tells her that he also had an affair.

We see the story of the love of his life in flashbacks, we watch how he meets Mathilde (an excellent Marie-Josée Croze) in Hong Kong on a business trip, how he falls in love head over heels, how they continue seeing each other for years in different places, Hong Kong, Paris, anywhere in the world. He tells Chloë of his extreme happiness, how well they felt together until the day Mathilde asked him what would become of them. From that moment on things got complicated.

Despite a loveless marriage Pierre cannot break free. There is his wife, the children, his reputation, the house, the holiday house, his habits, his way of life. He would have liked to go on like they did forever, meeting Mathilde whenever possible, but not changing his routine. For a while Mathilde accepts this but one day she cannot take it any longer and Pierre must make a decision.

It is easy to judge Pierre and I guess everyone who watches this movie at a certain moment will judge him. But after a while one starts to understand and one also understands why he told Chloë his story. He doesn’t want her to keep back his son. He doesn’t want his son to be a coward and to destroy two lives.

Je l’aimais is a great example of what French cinema has to offer. Actors who are so excellent, they let you experience what the characters they portray go through. The three people come across as so vulnerable and naked, it’s quite amazing. The camera seems glued to their faces and they fill the screen at any moment, every gesture, every facial expression is meaningful.

I couldn’t find an English trailer and had to attach the French one but there are subtitled versions of the movie available.

Je l’aimais is my first contribution to Book Bath‘s and Thyme for Tea‘s event Paris In July.

I decided to do a weekly French cinema post on Sunday starting today until the end of the month.

Philippe Lioret’s Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas aka Don’t Worry, I’m Fine (2006)

What if the person you feel closest to would disappear one day without leaving a note? Just like that, without real reason, without explanation. Would you survive to be ripped apart like this?

When Lili returns home from a summer camp and hears that her twin brother has disappeared, she is devastated.  Lili cannot believe it. Her parents tell her that he had a fight with their father and left in anger, just taking his guitar.

Lili cannot understand. He would never leave like this, not call her, not wait for her. She breaks into pieces, doesn’t eat anymore, let’s herself die until she is finally brought to a psychiatric hospital. But that doesn’t help, it is making it even worse. Only when her brother finally sends a post card, telling her not to worry and that he is fine and travelling from one town to the next, she slowly returns to life.

Bookaroundthercorner reviewed the novel by Olivier Adam (not yet translated) on which the movie Je vais bien, ne t’en fais pas is based and mentioned that the movie was as good as the novel. After having read what she wrote I had to see it.

It isn’t easy to write about this movie without spoiling it. Let me just tell you that this must be one of the most moving and touching movies I have ever seen. It is heartbreakingly sad and the ending is not at all what you would expect. It is very well acted. The music is perfect and pulls your heartstrings. It is sad and at the same time it looks at life in a middle class French family, the boredom and the routine but also the dreams hidden under the surface, the clumsy way of communicating and the incredible choices everybody makes. This is a movie that will make you question yourself. What would you have done, how would you have acted and reacted. Each and every one of the four main characters at the core of the story must make decisions, decide whether or not to speak.

Like in most French movies there is also a love story and it is also very touching. As sad as it is, there is a lot of beauty in this movie.

I have to admit that this movie got me all teary eyed which is something that doesn’t happen very often.

The title song of the film has been composed by the French duo AaRON here is their website. In the movie it is said to have been composed by Lili’s bother.

Mélanie Laurent, as Lili, is a really good and very cute actress and also Kad Merad as the father is very convincig. This is the second time I have seen Julien Boisselier in a week (the last time in Les femmes de l’ombre that I didn’t like) and both times I found him very good..

Martin Provost’s Séraphine (2008) The Movie and the Woman Behind it

I come from a family of painters. Everything related to painting has always fascinated me. I remember the smell of oil paint from my childhood. Someone was always fiddling around with paint and turpentine, heavy cigarette smoke in the air… Creativity, inspiration and spirituality are some of the most important things to me. All this and much more is captured in this heartbreaking movie.

Séraphine is one of the most tragic movies I have ever seen. It is based on a true story, on the life of the painter Séraphine de Senlis, cleaning woman, artist, visionary, madwoman. But first, and most touchingly, a vulnerable human being. The actress Yolande Moreau does an absolutely outstanding job in this role. Ulrich Tukur starring as the famous German art collector Wilhelm Uhde is equally good.

In 1914 Uhde rents an apartment in Senlis, some 40 kilometers from Paris, to recover from his stressful life. The cleaning woman his landlaydy hires for him startles him at first. She is very rough and hardly speaks a word, seems completely uneducated. Séraphine is pitied by all and hardly taken seriously. People think that she is slightly mad and very odd. During the days she cleans houses and washes people’s laundry, at night she paints and sings. She produces her own paint, mixtures from blood, wax, juices and other substances. When Uhde sees one of her paintings in the appartment of his landlady, he is astonished. To him, who collects the work of the so-called Primitives,  this is the work of a genius and he can hardly believe it has been painted by someone with no schooling. He asks her to paint more for him and to improve herself. The paintings she produces from now on are getting better and better but when the war breaks out, Uhde abandons Séraphine and flees back to Germany.

He doesn’t go back to Senlis for almost twenty years but when he comes back he finds Séraphine again. She is by now totally impoverished but still paints the most magnificent pictures. He helps her sell them and in a short time she makes a lot of money that she spends without restraint until the second world war announces itself through a huge economic crisis. Uhde looses a lot of money and can no longer support Séraphine. But worst of all, the big exhibition in Paris, to which she has been looking forward to for years, will not take place.

Séraphine doesn’t recover from this shock and goes mad. The scene in which she walks through the village, barefoot and in a silken marriage dress is haunting. She is finally  taken to an asylum where she will stay until her death.

Séraphine’s story is sad but also very mysterious. Where did a simple woman without any background or education take her inspiration from? How did she learn to paint? Séraphine said that the virgin Mary inspired her, she sounded like a visionary, not unlike Hildegard von Bingen who painted too.

She also seesm to have communicated with nature. Many of the visually most powerful scenes of the movie show Séraphine walking over fields, hugging trees. This is her way to connect an refuel.

Séraphine is a thoughtful, almost meditative movie, heartbreaking, moving and utterly fascinating. It is slow-paced and takes its time to unfold.

There are so many mysteries in the world. Art, creativity, inspiration and spirituality are some of the most powerful ones. Thanks to movies like Séraphine, we are reminded of this.

For those who want to see more of Séraphine de Senlis’ paintings, I attached this interesting documentary.