Life Is A Long Quiet River

  • 1987
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Comedy

At least on film, the renowned Gallic wit appears to be in serious decline. Nowhere is this more evident than in LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER, the first feature by Etienne Chatiliez, currently France's hottest new filmmaker. More dull than droll, this tepid foray into social satire has about as much fizz and sparkle as flat Perrier. A spinoff of Mark Twain's...read more

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At least on film, the renowned Gallic wit appears to be in serious decline. Nowhere is this more evident than in LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER, the first feature by Etienne Chatiliez, currently France's hottest new filmmaker. More dull than droll, this tepid foray into social satire has

about as much fizz and sparkle as flat Perrier. A spinoff of Mark Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson," with hints of "The Prince and the Pauper" (not to mention BIG BUSINESS and TWINS) thrown in, LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER features a nature vs. nurture plot that contains all the elements for good farce or

parody, but fails to deliver. When her lover opts to spend Christmas with his wife, Josette (Catherine Hiegel), the longtime mistress of Dr. Mavial (Daniel Gelin) and a nurse at his private maternity clinic, switches a pair of newborns in an act of spite. Young Momo (Benoit Magimel) is unwittingly

raised as their son by the Groseilles, a family of lowlife miscreants and prostitutes. Conversely, Bernadette (Valerie Lalande), the Groseilles' real daughter, is reared by the bourgeois, pretentious Le Quesnoys in their rigidly formal, conservative household. Momo becomes a likable petty thief;

Bernadette is rather charmless and self-indulgent. Their lives couldn't be more different, and living as they do at opposite ends of town and society, they never have occasion to meet. Twelve years after the switch, however, Mavial's wife dies. He refuses to marry his long-suffering paramour, so

she exacts revenge (before leaving his employ) by writing to both families and to the doctor, informing them of her misdeed. Voila! the merde hits the fan, and life will never be the same again. The flustered Le Quesnoys take in Momo, though they pretend he is their adoptive son and call him

Maurice. Without telling Bernadette of her true lineage, they also pay off her real parents in order to keep her where she is. The sleazy Groseilles are only too happy with this arrangement, viewing it purely as a means to extract ever-increasing amounts of money from the Le Quesnoys, who, in

typical bourgeois fashion, always try to do the right and proper thing. This leads to an almost humorless sequence of events. Momo can neither believe his good fortune nor give up his larcenous habits, so he steals the family silver and introduces his new sisters and brothers to the loose ways of

the Groseilles, with whom he still maintains close contact. Under his influence, life at the Le Quesnoys generally goes to pot. The virginal housekeeper gets pregnant, one of Momo's Le Quesnoy brothers starts dating a Groseille daughter (a world-class teenage whore), and the rest of the bourgeois

brood, straining at the bit after years of rigidly enforced standards of behavior, end up sniffing glue and eating ketchup sandwiches. Mme. Le Quesnoy (Helene Vincent), a doting eternal mother who previously would have felt guilty over not making enough placemats for the local church play, now

ends up sitting around the house in sunglasses and boozing all day. The stern and once severely repressed M. Le Quesnoy (Andre Wilms) now gets turned on by his wife's inebriation--much to her horror. Only Josette, the cause of it all, gets exactly what she wanted. Forced to close down his clinic

in disgrace, Dr. Mavial ends up in her house at the seashore, an almost unwilling captive of Josette's love, and in the final scene, he sits at her side, speechless and morose. Throughout all this, the Groseilles--whose name, incidentally, has become synonymous in France with the English

yahoo--are consistently objects of ridicule and derision. The fat, slovenly mother (Christine Pignet) does nothing but dye her hair and yell, while unemployed Dad (Maurice Mons) just sits and watches TV. The kids, in turn, are lewd, rude, and crude.

Although there are occasional, briefly funny moments--most notably those between the doctor and his nurse and those featuring a grinning local priest (Patrick Bouchitey), who fancies himself a rock singer--the film generally offers unconnected, fleeting visual impressions instead of well-developed

characters. Most of the roles are glossed over, including that of Bernadette. Her tribulations are, in fact, almost entirely ignored in the unfolding tale, and the void is significant. In general, we're left with a film that realizes virtually none of its potential.

In this age of prefabrication and instant, inconsequential humor, it was just a matter of time before French cinema picked up on American-style sitcom sensibilities. Director Chatiliez, 38, formerly a prominent maker of French TV commercials, has adapted his skills from that medium to the big

screen with commercial success: LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER has been a hit in Paris since its release there in 1987. But in a country that once produced such filmmakers as Rene Clair, Jacques Tati, and Eric Rohmer--or even the more recent work of Bertrand Blier, Jean-Charles Tacchella (COUSIN,

COUSINE), Francis Veber (LES COMPERES), and Coline Serreau (THREE MEN AND A CRADLE)--Chatiliez's film bodes ill for the continued vigor of France's remarkable tradition of cinematic satire and farce. LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER is a major disappointment. (Adult situations.)

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  • Released: 1987
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: At least on film, the renowned Gallic wit appears to be in serious decline. Nowhere is this more evident than in LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER, the first feature by Etienne Chatiliez, currently France's hottest new filmmaker. More dull than droll, this tepid… (more)

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