The Return of Martin Guerre

The Return of Martin Guerre

The Return of Marti Guerre
Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye
Director: Daniel Vigne
Format: Color, Widescreen, Dolby
Rated: NR
Studio: Fox Lorber
DVD Release Date: January 15, 2002
Run Time: 111

I bought "The Return of Martin Guerre" because I am a history buff, and the film had been described by a leading historian as the most accurate film one could find depicting the life of the middle class in Medieval France. The story line has been redone by Jody Foster and cast in post-Civil War Virginia, but this film is head and shoulders above the remake. If you can’t understand French, read the subtitles and watch it more than once.

The setting is a small village in France during the late Middle Ages. The tale centers on a soldier, Martin Guerre played by Gerard Depardieu (in his younger slimmer body), who returns home after years of absence. He renews his relationship with the wife he deserted (or rather begins again since his former relationship left much to be desired). His years away have made him a better person than the callow youth he was when left the village seeking adventure. He has become a loving husband and a hard worker, and discordance seems a thing of the past.

Ater much hard work, one day, he asks his family to relinquish a parcel of land he says rightfully belongs to him. This request disturbs the family who had assumed he was gone for good and would never assume ownership of the land. Their greed leads them to begin a court proceeding against him charging him as an imposter who has no right to the land.

I found the legal angles of the story quite intriguing. It was illuminating to discover there were laws and jurisprudence as well as thoughtful judges during this period. The "humanist" movement had begun, so there were newer provisions for protecting individuals from the group. The contrast of these provisions with the archaic punishments that date from an earlier period is instructive.

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