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aka - Retour De Martin Guerre. La
France 1982
Directed by
Daniel Vigne
111 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Return Of Martin Guerre

Based on an historical incident, La Retour de Martin Guerre tells the story of a peasant farmer named Martin Guerre (Gérard Depardieu) who in 1549 disappeared from the small village of Artigat in the foothills of the Pyrenees in southwestern France leaving behind his wife of seven years, Bertrande de Rols(Nathalie Baye) and a young son. After seven years he returned and resumed his old life. All went well for Martin until three vagrants turned up and identified Martin as Arnaud du Thil, a young man who had soldiered with the real Martin who, they said, was alive and living in Flanders.  Martin weathers this storm but when he challenges his uncle over how he handled his property while he was in absentia, the uncle (Maurice Barrier) filed suit against Martin, leading him to being tried as an imposter.

La Retour de Martin Guerre is indeed an intriguing story that has found many incarnations including beside film and novels, an opera and multiple musicals. Vigne’s version gives as its primary source "The Wife of Martin Guerre" a novel by American author Janet Lewis which has been adapted by the director with veteran French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière.

Improbable as the scenario sounds it works on screen thanks to the well-crafted script, a fine performance from  Depardieu who was doing his best work around this time and top drawer production values creating a convincing historical setting, most of the film being photographed in southwestern France, not far from Artigat.  Although Nathalie Baye is enchanting  in her role one would have to say that she is, perhaps a little too modern-looking to convince as a 16th century peasant woman.

The French are particularly good at representing their pre-industrial history and Vigne's film is a fine example of their skill in this respect. .




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