A while back I discovered a site called Kanopy.com, where you can see 10 films for free each month using your library card. The selection is made up of classic films, indie films, and foreign cinema. I was searching for the French film version of Les Misérables with Gérard Depardieu, and came upon Le Retour De Martin Guerre with him playing the title role. It turns out it was a huge hit at Cannes in 1982 and deservedly so. It won a César (The French Oscar) for best screenplay and was nominated for best costume design at the Academy Awards.
Basically, Le Retour De Martin Guerre is based on the true account of Martin Guerre, a man who lived in southwestern France in the 16th Century. He abandoned his wife and son to join the army and then supposedly returned home after nearly 10 years. However, the man claiming to be Martin Guerre was really an imposter who managed to fool the people in the village and Martin Guerre’s wife for three years. He was executed for defiling marriage and falsehood. For those people who have no idea who Gérard Depardieu even is or have only seen his American film appearances, this is a fantastic introduction to back when he was a young heartthrob. His performance as the false Martin Guerre will have you nearly believing that he is the man himself, but has just that bit of dissonance that makes you wonder if you’re right. This is clearly masterful acting at its best. And Martin Guerre’s ill-fated wife, Bertrande, is played by the lovely Nathalie Baye, a reknowned French actress you might remember from playing Frank Abagnale’s mother in Catch Me If You Can. She gives a very subtle performance as a woman whose life and fate is very much controlled by men. Bertande attempts to do what she can to ensure her own happiness, but in the end, she only encounters tragedy for trying to be a good woman and to protect her children. And her outfit in the courtroom scene is simply gorgeous. The end of the film is incredibly heartbreaking and disturbing with the execution of the false Martin. And then the credits roll right after the character dies. It’s like “scene direction: execution, and roll credits.”
My first introduction to foreign cinema was actually Cyrano De Bergerac starring Gérard Depardieu at an art film house in Portland when I was 8. That was my first time seeing a movie in the theatres with subtitles. My parents have serious standards when it comes to arts and culture in our family.