La Ville Est Tranquille Review

The story:
Michèle is on the verge of a breakdown - her daughter is a heroin addict but has just given birth to a baby girl; she has to work all night to get a wage and then returns home to take care of her granddaughter. On the other side of Marseille, Viviane doesn't have financial troubles: her husband is a rich town developer - still their marriage is gradually disintegrating and there's nothing she can do to hold it together. In the shipyard, Paul has just broken ranks with the docker's union by taking payoff money and starting afresh as a taxi driver. As these separate stories unfold, they start to intersect sometimes briefly, sometimes dramatically and the film starts to draw a vivid picture of the French society at the dawn of a new millennium.

Guédiguian's previous efforts (Marius et Jeanette and A la place du coeur) had been quite successful in France but did not really strive for realism tending to owe more to the moralistic politico-social fable than to the hard-hitting social writing of Émile Zola. In this film Guédiguian compresses together all of Ken Loach's output, mixed in the storytelling of Magnolia and Short Cuts and added some typicllay Gallic ambiguous characters: the result is a mesmerising film on life in Marseille from the ruling political class to the struggling youths in the "cités". Guédiguian seems to effortlessly avoid the easy pitfall of miserabilism or heavy didacticism (something that has plagued a great deal of Loach's work): the cité is not all burntout husks of cars or syringes strewn on the ground, neither are the characters heroic or necessarily sympathetic. The acting is also quite natural and heart-felt with a remarkable standout performance by Ariane Ascaride as the world-weary Michèle.

Interestingly the entire film revolves around France's changing political spectrum and in the light of the recent results in France, the film would be a good starting point for anyone who is trying to understand what's occurred in French politics. Without moralising about it, Guédiguian portrays the paralyzing apathy that politics inspire, as well as the shift from extreme-left to extreme-right in the working class areas. Although the film is quite harrowing, Guédiguian refuses to take sides and leaves the viewer with the task of drawing their own conclusions.

The DVD:
The image:Although the transfer is not stunning, it is comfortably adequate. This time AE have gone for a very clean low-contrast master. I didn't notice any artifacting and despite having the odd few white specks on the print it was very clean and problem free. One quibble I did have was that some scenes seemed a little too soft and at times out of focus. The transfer was in the correct aspect ratio and also anamorphic which is of course an undeniable plus. The subtitles are computer generated but can't be turned off - the translation is good although I still cringe when I see mild French swearing such as "putain" being give an F-word treatment in English!

The sound:We get the original stereo which is more than enough. There's some good use of it in the film but nothing too spectacular. The audio did have a tendency to get a little murky in some scenes but I was under the impression that was caused by the original soundtrack rather than anything else.

The menus:A standard menu from AE: an excerpt from the film plays in the background as we make our selections. Perfectly acceptable but nothing exceptional.

The extras:Strangely enough, we don't get the theatrical trailer although the box claims it should contain it! As usual we get detailed filmographies of the director and the lead actors as well as an in-depth written interview with the director and the lead actress - this is quite a standard extra for AE releases and is as usual a very well chosen interview. Definately worth reading after the film, due to some spoilers in it...

Although the extras are quite sparse (but relatively interesting), this is a good release of a film which will probably gain a clear appeal in the light of the recent events in France. It's nice to see that AE have returned to their usual level of image quality with this release.

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