THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE (1982)
Starring Gerard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye, Maurice Barrier, Isabelle Sadoyan, Roger Planchon, Dominique Pinon. Directed by Daniel Vigne. (112 min)
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Review by Mr. Paws😸
When we first meet Martin Guerre, he’s still a young man and...well, kind of a dick. Granted, he’s got some performance issues on his wedding night, to the amusement of the entire village, but that was due to a curse placed on him. However, after a priest removes the curse, Martin is still cold to his wife, Bertrande, and virtually ignores their newborn son. To the chagrin of his parents, he shuns his farming duties and eventually takes off in the middle of the night.
Martin (Gerard Depardieu) returns nine years later. The villagers are initially overjoyed, especially since he appears to be a changed man. Personable and hard-working, he claims he was off fighting the war and regales friends and family with tales of his travels. Most notably, he’s now a loving and affectionate husband to Bertrande (Nathalie Baye). Things are idyllic for a few years until some villagers – led by his uncle, Pierre (Maurice Barrier) – begin to suspect he may not actually be the real Martin Guerre. Whether or not he is her husband, Bertrande has never been happier, so she's reluctant to side with his accusers. An investigation and trial soon follow, conducted by court judge Jean de Coras (Roger Planchon).
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This 1982 French period drama – based on a true story – made enough waves overseas to inspire an American remake (Sommersby) and a stage musical. After viewing this film, it’s understandable. The premise itself is inherently compelling enough to have previously inspired numerous other writers and The Return of Return Guerre does the story further justice with outstanding performances – Depardieu and Baye, in particular – as well as impressively drab production design depicting 15th Century peasant life in France. But it’s ultimately a courtroom drama, with Martin’s trial comprising the second half of the story. Without providing spoilers, director & co-writer Daniel Vigne does a commendable job keeping the viewer guessing until the final reveal.
The film does take time to gain momentum, as does any emotional investment in the titular character. But The Return of Martin Guerre rewards the viewer’s patience with plenty of narrative surprises and a suitably haunting denouement. Additionally, a new 4K restoration nicely preserves the production’s earthy imagery and costume design. If nothing else, this is a great looking disc.
INTERVIEW WITH NATHALIE BAYE
ORIGINAL & RESTORATION TRAILERS
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.