Marius and Jeannette

Newcity Chicago

DIRECTED BY: Robert Guédiguian

REVIEWED: 06-29-98

Robert Guediguian's quietly spectacular, unlikely love story unfolds in Marseilles, with the most striking moments taking place in close-ups that frame the faces of Marius, a guard at a condemned factory, and Jeanette, a volatile checkout woman with two children by two husbands, one who abandoned her, one killed by falling scaffolding. In the bleak Marseilles economy, where a lack of jobs and a profusion of immigrants have sown seeds of racism and xenophobia, it is all members of the struggling working class can do to steal small moments of happiness. Living literally on top of Jeanette, in an upstairs apartment, a staunch fortysomething Communist, Caroline, shells beans and reads the lefty tabloid "L'Humanite"; Caroline's neighbor-erstwhile lover Justin reads "Le Monde Diplomatique," lecturing Jeanette's mulatto son Malek (Miloud Nacer), who decides to observe Ramadan, on fundamentalism. This is a film of graceful moments, strung together, lingering long after the final credits: the hobbled Marius challenging Jeanette to a foot race along a dusty factory road, to a distant parasol; the pair breathing in the air under a clear blue Mediterranean sky after making love for the first time amid the cement factory's grassy ruins; Jeanette, Monique and Caroline buying Chinese silk underwear from Monsieur Ebrard, Jeanette's ex-boss at the supermarket, who fired her, then was fired himself after being caught stealing panties for his overweight wife--a woman so large, she wears through the crotch at an alarming rate, he tells the women, with all three doubled-over with laughter; Jeanette giving a blue-silk camisole set to her teenage daughter Magali (leggy, beautiful Laetitia Pesenti), who says, "If I wore this out, I'd be pregnant by the time I got to the end of the street"; and concerned whispers, at half-time of a televised Marseilles soccer match, when he stops--for his own tragic reasons-- joining Jeanette, Malek and Magali for dinner. What saves these people, what makes this movie so exceptional, is the sense of humor, unbending even as hydraulic cranes smash down the cement factory. Caroline complains when she learns the papal villa at Avignon is going to be declared a national historic site. "Why not make a factory a historic site?" she demands. Guediguian's brilliant, funny, unsentimental "Marius and Jeanette" gives the workers of the world a memorable monument.

--Sam Jemielity

Capsule Reviews
Marius and Jeannette

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