Under a bright winter sun an elderly man mutters the words tant pis (too bad) as he looks over the stunning bay. Appearing to be resigning himself to something – life, his house, a regret – he has a stroke and these words remain a mystery. As his adult children reunite around him, a level of unease based on absence sets the tone of the film. An unequal inheritance in her favour has brought Angèle (Ariane Ascaride) back to her childhood home, and she and her brothers Armand (Gérard Meylan) and Joseph (Jean-Pierre Darrousin) treat each other carefully as they come together under the strained circumstance of the demise of Maurice, their father. Remains of a washed-up boat bring the army to the village in search of impending immigrants. The distance between the groups is palpable when they eventually do meet, dominated by sullen-faced concern and wary hospitality.
Set in the modest and struggling family brasserie Le Mange Tout, in a fishing village near Marseille, the return home is one of anguish for Angèle (Ariane Ascardie), now a Parisian actress. Struck by the winter-induced absence of people and the ageing of others, the visit evokes a long-buried family tragedy. “How did you stay away from us for so long?”, asks her brother. As the film progresses, Ariane slowly asks herself the same question with the sea, lush vegetation, red soil, and an imposing viaduct carrying passing trains, evoking a physical memory of the past and dissipating her numbness.
Besides Guédiguian’s stable trio – Ariane Ascardie, Jean-Pierre Darrousin and Gérard Meylan – who reunite in this story of memories, grief and change, the story is an intergenerational drama. Guediguian describes the film as a homecoming of sorts, to the bay that has been his home for almost 40 years.
In this film Guediguian feels like the Aki Kaurismaki of the south. Recollections of Kaurismaki’s The Man without a Past (2002) came to me as I watched the wintery sun, sea, and a certain stilted dankness. Combined with gravity and gloominess, the hints of happiness never quite overrode the generally morose atmosphere.
This is an intricate film. Various stories are woven into the periphery of the family core, including that of Benjamin (Robinson Stevenin), leading a life that encompasses more than his fisherman’s facade would suggest, providing both energy and light in what could have been a story dominated by melancholy and introspection.
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