Life Is A Long Quiet River Review
If it’s already common knowledge that French comedies as a rule don’t travel all that well, Life Is A Long Quiet River (La vie est un long fleuve tranquille), immersed in the style and colour of the 80s, may well show that they don’t age well either. There are exceptions to every rule however and, although it’s not a common trait of French comedy, which is normally more reliant on farce as a driving factor, those films with a little bit of black comedy and underlying social content tend to fare rather better. It’s this kind of content that just about keeps Étienne Chatiliez’s Life Is A Long Quiet River afloat.
As far as establishing the characters that make up the two sides of the social divide in a small French provincial town, the strokes are laid on fairly thick. The Groseille family are the misfits, the Boswells from Bread (to put it into a parallel 80s UK comedy context), the kids juvenile delinquents, disrespectful of authority, neglectful of schooling, the parents not exactly setting a good example, finding a way to steal their power supply from the electric company. The Le Quesnoys on the other hand are a model family of good living Catholics, the father the director of an electric company (the very same one the Groseille’s are defrauding), the children respectful and polite, the whole family taking part with great enthusiasm in church events.
Then there’s the Doctor – as smooth and laid back as a French crooner, he’s a bit of a hit with the ladies, keeping his mistress Josette tagging along while he gives priority to his wife and regular family life, a disagreeable situation for the mistress, one that leads to a great deal of conflict and perhaps as a consequence passionate frantic sex. Eventually however Josette decides she has had enough and makes public the fact that, in a bout of anger over being stood-up on Christmas Eve twelve years ago – the first of many times – she switched over two babies that had been delivered that very day by the Doctor, a girl from the Groseille family for a boy from the Le Quesnoy family. On hearing the news, the Groseille’s aren’t slow to recognise a situation that could be exploited for their gain...
...and such should also be the case for the director, but Life Is A Long Quiet River is rather restrained in how it plays out the resultant havoc that is unleashed on the Le Quesnoy family who see all their values and beliefs cruelly eroded. Even with an Algerian grocer and his family added to the mix, also apparent victims of violence in this inequitable society, Chatiliez somehow manages to avoid slipping into heavy-handed farce. Unfortunately however, the film tends to fall in the middle somewhere, not being sufficiently biting or indeed funny in its comedy but being too broad to function effectively as a satire of French society. What remains however is a situation that would make a hugely entertaining TV series, one that captures the tone, colour and attitude of the 80s, but – perhaps indeed like a French equivalent of Bread – one that never had the qualities for big screen entertainment, or indeed have the ability to withstand the dating of the years.
Life Is A Long Quiet River is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is in PAL format and encoded for Region 2.
Perhaps like the film itself, the original MK2 transfer which seems to be the source for the transfer, also seems a little dated. There’s certainly a day-glo tone to the colours that works well with the film, and even a slight 80s video haze of graininess that seems appropriate. The contrast levels are fine also, the film holding up well and showing reasonably good detail in interiors. There are no problems with stability either, the anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer showing no real problems with macro-blocking or digital artefacts. The print however shows one or two minor dustspots and marks here and there and large reel-change marks are evident. It’s a perfectly adequate transfer that presents the film well, if not in any way exceptionally.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is fine throughout, with good tone and clarity to the dialogue and incidental sounds.
English subtitles are in a white font and are optional. It’s a slightly thinner font than usual for Artificial Eye releases, but I didn’t find any problems with readability.
The only extra feature related to the film is the original brief French Trailer (0:36), which takes the unusual angle of not showing any scenes from the film, but rather a couple in a deadly rush to get to see the film. Trailers for other Artificial Eye releases are also included.
Whether you found it funny the first time around or nor, Life Is A Long Quiet River hasn’t really dated all that well, but does have a certain interest and nostalgic character, seeped in the attitude and look of the 80s. Artificial Eye’s UK DVD release is basic, but fine in the areas of the transfer that count.