Socialist moralizing weakens the effect of superb acting and cinematography in this 1997 French film about the travails and triumphs of ordinary folk inhabiting Estaque, the working-class section of Marseilles. The setting, though humble, is utterly charming, full of the Mediterranean color and sunshine of impressionist Paul Cézanne's 19th century paintings of Estaque. Pause the film in the walled cul-de-sacs of Estaque, and you will create a charming portrait highlighted by brilliant blues and greens set against tranquil pastels and earth tones. The sounds of the film are no less engaging -- sometimes. Day and night, cicadas chirp rhythms that lull and soothe, and now and again Luciano Pavarotti invades the soundtrack to sing "O Sole Mio." And then Jeannette (Ariane Ascaride), a struggling single mother, opens her mouth. A born shouter who speaks light-speed French, she curses her boss, scolds her children, and vilifies Marius (Gérard Meylan) for not allowing her to steal two cans of paint from an abandoned cement factory where he works as a watchman. The next day, he brings her the paint, offering to apply it to her dingy walls, and love blooms. Although both have reservations born of painful pasts, they learn to accept each other and seize the joie de vivre of the moment. The easygoing pace, the accomplished acting, and the humble charm of the setting make this film a nice little ragout. Unfortunately, director Robert Guédiguian seasons the stew with too much leftist preaching by Jeannette's neighbors: Caroline (Pascale Roberts), a communist; Justin (Jacques Boudet), an atheist; and Monique (Frédérique Bonnal), a wife who makes her husband Dédé (Jean-Pierre Darrousin) the butt of a running joke because he once voted for the rightist National Front. Jeannette herself at times symbolizes the downtrodden proletariat, and the alleyway in which she lives comes across as a microcosm for a commune. Bernard Cavalié's camera work is wonderful. The 102-minute film is in French with English subtitles.
by Mike Cummings review