Jean-Louis Milesi and Robert Guédiguian (scenario and dialogue), Robert Guédiguian (director) La Ville est tranquille (The Town Is Quiet) / 2000
The Marseille director Robert Guédiguian presents in a 360° pan at the beginning of this film, showing a city awash in a golden splendor of light, does indeed appear to be quiet and calm. The music we hear, Debussy, Bach, and works by other composers, is being played, we soon discover, by a young Georgian boy on an electric keyboard set up in a park; a sign asks listeners to contribute to his purchase of a real piano.
For all that, Michèle is filled with determination and the will to survive, and she is the most loving and forgiving character of the film, so desperate to help her daughter, for example, that, after Fiona has used the doctor-prescripted antidote to get high, the mother contacts an old friend, a bartender, Gérard to help her obtain real drugs. When her savings runs out, she is determined even to pimp herself in order to cover the cost.
Michèle fires up another dose of drugs for her daughter, this time adding a second packet and yet a third. Smiling in the bliss of relief, Fiona awaits the needle which will result in her death.
Gérard arrives, responding to Michèle's news a few minutes before Paul arrives for another sexual encounter. Despite the fact that he knows he is intruding on some dreadful happening, this time he insists he will not go, but stay. What happens, we are never told. But it is clear that they can no longer help one another, that they are both doomed to face the circumstances of their acts.
Guédiguian's harrowing film is often described as a painfully realist presentation of Marseille, but in its intricacies of plot and its density of coincidence, it is, to my way of thinking, more like a kind of fantasy. Even the most well-rounded character in the work, Michèle, is almost too selfless to be believed; the others are all rather vague, their actions often muddled.
Los Angeles, March 16, 2011