Political Film Society - The Town is Quiet

PFS Film Review
The Town is Quiet (La ville est tranquille)


The Town is Quiet (La ville est tranquille) is about the impact of globalization on Marseilles, a once-bustling port now used primarily by fishing vessels. The focus is on the impact upon the people of a proud city that has become redundant. In search of new sources of employment-from research thinktanks to tourism-politicians of the left and right have come together, while the working class is left out of their calculations. Using the "shortcuts" cinematic method, director Robert Guédiguian, a former member of the Communist Party of France, lets us peer into the lives of several ordinary persons, nearly all of whom are so despondent concerning their fate that they seek scapegoats. The central character, Michèle (played by Ariane Ascaride), gets up at dawn to work in the fishmarket, while her husband is on the dole. Their teenage daughter Fiona (played by Julie-Marie Parmentier) does tricks for the cash to buy heroin. All three express anger at each other, but only Michèle cares for Fiona's illegitimate baby. Michèle tries to get medical attention for Fiona, who needs to be institutionalized, but receives only pills that her daughter refuses to take. Ultimately, Michèle buys heroin from a former boyfriend Gérard (played by Gérard Meylan), who has become a drug middleman and contract killer because his once-crowded bar is empty. For cash to pay for Fiona's craving for a hit, Michèle sells her body to Paul (played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a former dockworker who has become a taxidriver. When Paul gets too many traffic tickets, however, he loses his taxi license but continues his business illegally if less profitably. Yet he cannot keep up payments on the taxi to a loanshark, who fortunately refrains from inflicting physical violence upon him because he was a buddy in the French Resistance with Paul's father. Paul's father, meanwhile, has become a compulsive househusband, driving Paul's mother crazy. Even the middle class is adversely affected. Viviane Froment (played by Christine Brücher) teaches music to the disadvantaged, including African Abderamane (played by Alexandre Ogou), who comes after her when he leaves prison for a short drug offense. Viviane's husband Yves (played by Jacques Pieiller), a rich developer, bores her by philosophizing about the fate of the city but doing nothing to help, so Abderamane is easily able to score. However, tragedy inevitably strikes. Political organizers from the Far Right mobilize support on the premise that foreigners are the cause of their troubles, and soon Abderamane is shot dead. Michèle, frustrated that Fiona's habit is beyond her means, decides to deliberately give her daughter an overdose of heroin. Gérard assassinates Claude (Pierre Banderet) and later commits suicide when a pedestrian shows anger at him. Music provides a sharp contrast with the darkness of most of the story. Viviane gets her pupils to sing with real spirit. Abderamane's pals are eloquent rap musicians. And the movie begins and ends with beautiful classical keyboard music played by a child prodigy from Georgia, who starts the film by playing in a park, asking for donations to buy a grandpiano. The movie ends as his new piano is delivered to his home, an apartment building occupied by expatriates from the Caucasus who are ecstatic that one of their own is bringing Mozart to Marseilles. Indeed, the enterprise and joy of the Georgians, in sharp contrast with the lethargy and angst of the French, eloquently refutes the claims of the Far Right that immigrants are to blame for the economic downturn. Nevertheless, the most acerbic criticism in the movie is directed toward politicians, who are clearly not responding to the needs of the masses. As a film that clearly argues the need for greater democracy, the Political Film Society has nominated The Town Is Quiet for an award as best film of 2002 in promoting the need for greater democracy. MH

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