Marius and Jeannette

(Marius et Jeannette, Robert Guédiguian, France, 1997)


Robert Guédiguian's Marius and Jeannette presents a face of French cinema and French life relatively unfamiliar on Australian screens. Far from the glittering sophistication of the Parisian middle class, the characters here are ordinary types, scratching out a living in the Estaque district of Marseille.

Jeannette (Ariane Ascaride) is a single mother of two. She is drawn to the handsome but somewhat incommunicative Marius (Gérard Meylan), who works as a guard at a factory where general work has long ceased. The development of their relationship constitutes a rather moving love story, but Guédiguian never loses grasp of a wider, no less affecting social context.

Jeannette brings Marius into her immediate community of family members and close friends. As well as representing various facets of the universal, human comedy – as in the case of the couple who constantly argue furiously but remain fiercely in love – these characters also stand for various pieces of historical, political experience.

One woman talks heartily and poignantly of her sexual experiences in a concentration camp. Her occasional companion, from across the courtyard, tries to explain to children the meaning of vast issues like racism and religious belief. Everywhere, the hardships of working life – retrenchment, exploitative conditions, the changes brought by unwieldy industrialisation – leave their mark on the fortunes and misfortunes of personal relations.

There are moments when Marius and Jeannette becomes clumsy, repetitive or preachily didactic, but what makes it special is this refusal to differentiate the personal from the political, the social Big Picture from the little joys and exasperations of the everyday.

Guédiguian's leisurely, deeply humanist approach to such material recalls a lost era of '70s cinema – especially Alain Tanner's films written by John Berger, such as Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976).

© Adrian Martin April 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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