La Ville est Tranquille (The Town is Quiet), directed by Robert Guediguian, is one of the most powerful and deeply moving films I have seen for many years. Set in Marseilles, it is a razor-sharp portrayal, devoid of sentimentality, of working class people suffering the unremitting brutalisation of modern day capitalism.
With beautifully clear, uncompromising shots of the French port-standing for many other European cities with its shopping malls, motorway flyovers, marinas and tower blocks-the film traces the lives of three individuals. Michele works the night shift at a fish processing factory and comes home every dawn to her teenage daughter, who neglects her baby while selling herself to fund her heroin addiction.
Paul has just taken redundancy pay, and uses the money to set himself up as a taxi driver while his colleagues fight to save the docks from closure. Abderrhamane,a young African immigrant, has just come out of prison but is determined to help other youngsters make something of their lives by using their musical talents.
Each in their own way struggles to overcome the cold logic of a society where only money counts, while the wealthy are forever partying and mixing their political allegiances as easily as their sexual partners or their cocktails. Against a background of racism, sometimes insidiously political, sometimes more open, the film moves inexorably towards its horrifying climax.
It is a story of despair, lifted out of unmitigated bleakness by many instances of human compassion and humour. Abderrhamane forms a friendship, later a love affair, with a middle class French woman alienated from her cynical, adulterous husband.
Michele decides to prostitute herself to get the money for her daughter's heroin, rather than see her daughter suffer. And Paul, who fancies Michele, takes her home in his taxi (for free) and sings the Internationale in four different languages to cheer her up!
The climax of the film leaves you stunned- but unlike the bland Hollywood mainstream offerings, you are still discovering new aspects of it days after leaving the cinema.
Reprinted from Scottish Socialist Voice, the newspaper of the Scottish Socialist Party.