The Town Is Quiet

French writer-director Robert Guediguian (Marius and Jeannette) chronicles working-class life in Marseilles just as Marcel Pagnol did in the 1930s, but the sun-dappled port city of this 2000 feature is riven by racial tension, drug addiction, and conspicuous decadence. At its center stands gaunt, persevering Michele (Ariane Ascaride), a fish market clerk exhausted by her doped-up daughter and infant grandchild; among the characters who intersect with her are an old boyfriend (Gerard Meylan), a bigoted husband on welfare (Pierre Banderet), and a nerdy cabdriver who pays her for sex (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). Some of the film's situations and motivations seem convenient or underdeveloped, but Ascaride and Darroussin are riveting, and Guediguian's frankness and empathy illuminate this kaleidoscope of lonely lives. In French with subtitles. 132 min.

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