THE TOWN IS QUIET (Robert Guédiguian, 2000)

Although it progressively loses force until pulling together for a sharp finish, Robert Guédiguian’s La ville est tranquille is ambitious and provocative. Its survey of an Altmanian host of individual lives, primarily working-class, many of them intersecting, is contained within a single city: Guédiguian’s own Marseilles. Its dense drama allows us to see how globalization impacts a community. The brilliant script is by Jean-Louis Milesi and Guédiguian.
     This narrative film’s procedure is elusive, associative. Things happen in the lives of these characters, both as a result of outside forces and individual traits and decisions, and the interaction of all these. However, since this is his focus, Guédiguian uses globalization as a starting-point—what, if you will, “gets the ball rolling.” One thing leads to another in each individual life, and by the time one reaches the umpteenth decision made by one individual, or the umpteenth event in his or her life, because the new reference point is always what has immediately preceded it, the decision or event may not seem at all related to globalization. But it is, given the train of circumstance. Guédiguian argues causality less than he does environment; the vision that he painstakingly details isn’t deterministic, but, rather, one of association and influence. It attempts to fathom the degree to which globalization affects ordinary lives, even at points where its participation in those lives is hidden from view.
     For example, Paul is a former dockworker who turned against his union by accepting redundancy money—a path smoothed for this son of Leftists by the extent to which globalization has devastated the Marseilles economy. He uses the money, along with a loan, to buy a car; he is now a cabbie. For free, he offers a ride and money to a woman offering herself as a prostitute for that sum, at least partly to balance out the guilt he feels for betraying co-workers; but days later, he engages the woman’s services for pay—an exploitation facilitated by his betrayal of his co-workers. And so forth.
     Guédiguian does an exceptional job of explaining how the fascist National Front, especially over the issue of unwanted immigrants in the crucible of unemployment and marginal employment, has co-opted the politics of a once progressive community.
     Ariane Ascaride (best actress, Valladolid), Guédiguian’s spouse, is terrific as Michäle, a fish packer on the night shift, whose husband has turned to fascism over the course of three years’ joblessness, and whose teenaged daughter, the care of whose infant child it has fallen to Michäle to take over, works as a prostitute to support a heroin addiction. It is Michäle, desperate to raise money to buy drugs for her pain-racked daughter, to whom Paul gives the free ride.

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