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Marius and Jeannette
On the outskirts of Marseilles Jeannette (Ariane Ascaride) is barely making it - she lives alone with her two kids and a paycheck that always comes a bit short. The local superstore isn't what the forty-something woman had in mind when she moved to the city yet it seems like the only place still willing to pay the minimum wage…for now.
Marius (Gerard Meylan) works as a guard at an abandoned cement plant awaiting a new owner. Alone and hiding a bitter secret the man hardly even speaks. He spends most of his time carrying an empty rifle.
In dire need for some fresh paint Jeannette decides to help herself with some of the abandoned cans lying around the plant Marius guards. On her way back from the factory Jeannette is seen by Marius and asked to return the paint she has stolen. A few days later Marius appears at Jeannette's door with the cans she was asked to return.
Those of you who have seen Robert Guedigiuan's edgy La Ville est Tranquille a.k.a The Town is Quiet (2000), a gritty drama about poverty-ridden Marseilles, will find plenty of similarities with the French director's earlier and lesser-seen in the US Marius et Jeannette a.k.a Marius and Jeannette (1997) - same cast, same locations, the same technical crew. Only instead of the disturbing images from Marseilles The Town is Quiet offers Marius and Jeannette tells the beautiful story of two aging lovers.
It is hard not to like what Robert Guedigiuan has achieved in this award-winning film. The story as mentioned above follows two human beings whose lives have transformed into a monotonous daily struggle for survival. In an area hit hard by globalization (the cement plant where Marius has secured a job as a guard has been outsourced elsewhere) the locals rediscover the simpler things in life.
The social message behind this film however, and I am not quite so sure there is an intended one as some critics claim, appears to be causing all sorts of problems for viewers familiar with Robert Guediguian's political orientation (the director is an outspoken socialist). The misery that brings together Marius and Jeannette and consequently makes them fall in love seems to be rubbing many the wrong way! It is perceived as being populist and unrealistic that two people can discover love when their lives have lost meaning - "meaning" being prospects of securing a high-paying job or the ability to build a respectable career.
Yet, the unthinkable happens! After a string of awkward scenes Marius and Jeannette finally realize that even though the city offers very little to soften their misery there is still plenty they can enjoy. Including each other!
I do not know how this film will resonate with you! And I am not willing to speculate about it! If you end up believing that Marius and Jeannette is nothing more than socialist propaganda masked as a love story so be it, you must have a good reason(s) to conclude that Robert Guediguian was showing you something I did not see!
What I did see in this film was real life - disappointing, bitter, yet worth living! I liked how Marius and Jeannette struggled to see beyond what they should have willingly accepted. Even though they were past their prime! I know for many of you it may sound cliché, pretentious, even populist praising a film where love is capable of creating beauty but…I believe in it. Just as Marius and Jeannette did!
How Does the DVD Look?
As expected once again what I have in my hands is a quickly transferred to DVD PAL-port which isn't any different than what New Yorker have produced in the past. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Marius and Jeannette appears to have been directly copied from the French boxset of Guediguian works which was released in Benelux-land some time ago. Contrast is average at best, colors are somewhat acceptable, and the print is free of any damage (I did see a few dust spots however). What annoys here is the fact that for the most part Marius and Jeannette looks quite soft and at times even blurry when shown on a larger screen. If you are using a regular tube it is quite possible that you might be able to neglect the above mentioned issues yet if you are using an advanced set-up to view your DVDs I am most certain this PAL-hack will annoy you quite a bit.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a modest French 2.0 DD track and optional white but large English subtitles the sound treatment is acceptable. Not impressive. This is a mostly dialog-driven film and as far as I am concerned the 2.0 track gets the job done. I could not detect any irritating audio drop-outs or hissings.
Aside from the original theatrical trailer what you would find on this DVD is a short interview with the director of the film in which he speaks about the history behind this film (I am fairly certain this is only an extract from the extras provided for each DVD in the R2 boxset).
I absolutely loved this film!! Quiet, honest, and relaxing (regardless of the social overtones) Marius and Jeannette comes highly recommended. The DVD does not! This being said I would like to also recommend that you see the spectacular Brodeuses a.k.a A Common Thread (2004) which offers a stunning performance by Ariane Ascaride.