The Return of Martin Guerre [VHS]
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Product Description

While many ugly Americans best remember Gerard Depardieu from late-'80s Hollywood fluff (and the less said about Green Card the better), his art-house reputation as a legitimate, conscientious actor was more than mere hype. The solid Return of Martin Guerre (Le Retour de Martin Guerre) stands as Depardieu's personal high-water mark: here, he was handed a well-written, nuanced role--one inviting a balanced display of intelligence, charismatic cool, and pure passion--and he makes the most of it. The narrative, set in medieval France during the Hundred Years' War, follows the alleged homecoming of a soldier after many years of absence. His wife (a structurally difficult role to portray with any skill, but played gamely here by the fetching Nathalie Baye) finds him such an improvement--both in the sack and otherwise--from the husband who left for the front that she ignores the villagers' suspicions that he is an impostor. The costumes and scenery are quite a bit better, and more historically responsible, than what we've all come to expect from period drama, and the logical flaws and obvious questions begged by the plot mechanics are smoothed out by director Daniel Vigne's steady hand with story art and cinematic pacing. The film was remade in English, and updated to the Reconstruction, in 1993 as Sommersby, starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. See this original instead. --Miles Bethany

Customer Reviews:

  • Engages your senses
    When I first viewed The Return of Martin Guerre in a Washington, D.C. arthouse cinema when it originally came out, it became firmly etched in my psyche as one of the most memorable films I had ever seen. Over time -- and throughout numerous viewings of my own copy of the film purchased several years ago -- my reverence for this film has only increased. Yes, it introduced me to the prodigious talents of Mr. Depardieu. Yes, it has an intriguing plot with a passionate and surprising, yet, somehow inevitable conclusion. However, the most memorable aspect of the film for me has always been how all of the film's elements combine to make the viewer completely experience medieval France. As you watch the characters in their homes, speaking with one another, you swear you can SMELL their unwashed, earthy-smelling bodies. When you see people trudging through the rutted streets, you can FEEL the sucking of the mud as it tries to keep the boots of the pedestrians in its grasp. Never have I been more involved in a film on so many levels simultaneously. I have recommended this film too many times to count, and I have loaned my copy out only to trusted friends. You don't just "watch" Martin Guerre, you truly experience it. ...more info
  • Will the real Martin Guerre please stand up
    This excellent movie is a suspenseful mystery involving possible mistaken identity, with a strong Hitchcockian feeling to it, set in a mid-1500s peasant village in France. Martin Guerre (Gerard Depardieu) marries Bertrande (Nathalie Baye) but soon after disappears. Eight years later he returns - but is it really him?

    Some in the village grow to doubt the real Martin has actually returned - he can't remember people and suffers other lapses of memory - though Nathalie remains faithful. These villagers bring Martin to trial, where he defends himself admirably. It looks like he's being framed, while Nathalie continues to support his claim without question.

    In court, just as he's about to be declared innocent, another Martin appears (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), claiming to be the real Martin. Can he be believed? Without spoiling the ending for anyone, I will just say that there are quite a few surprises from this point on in the movie, and that the real Martin is disclosed. In fact, near the end we come to realize that certain identifying clues have been fed to us all along.

    It's an intriguing story extremely well handled. A great deal of attention went into the setting, which is perfectly done and most authentic. Based on a true story. The 1993 remake SOMMERSBY, with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster, which changes the setting to rural Tennessee and alters the ending somewhat, can't hold a candle to this original. Definitely worth a watch....more info
  • No Spoilers, Just A Review
    I saw this film on VHS back in college, and can't say its release on DVD does a lot in terms of enhancing the experience of seeing it again, but it's an interesting story: up to a point. I know it's based on an actual event but were this a novel it'd be one of those of which I'd say it would've made a far better short story.

    The question of whether the man who returns home from war in the 16th century is actually the same long-lost Martin who left his family years before, or an imposter, is intriguing for those who may not be in the know, but the time in between the introduction of the mystery and the conclusion doesn't feature much in the way of goings on. I think this could have been a much better movie had there been a greater effort to show rural village life during this period, or even had it aimed to become a love story. As it was it relied too heavily on its own central question (is it Martin or not?) to carry its whole running time, and there simply was not enough material to achieve that. It's also the kind of movie that doesn't offer much on a repeat viewing. (I got the DVD for someone as a gift, and watched it with him.) Gerard Depardieu was unusually sedate in the title role, and those who might not know about it should be aware that there is the typical quota of nudity you might expect in a European release.

    One final note, this is the film that back in the `90's inspired an American remake called Sommersby, that starred Jodie Foster, James Earl Jones, and Richard Gere, although in that case the events were advanced in time to the post-American Civil War, and wholly invented, not based on historical fact.
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  • intriguing story set in medieval times
    Intricate story that strongly reminds one of the American film Sommersby. Fascinating setting in medieval France showing likely dress, shelter, means of living, customs at that time. A heartbreaker....more info
  • Great Film, Defective DVD
    What a shame. This is an extraordinary film, but the DVD has been defectively encoded. As a result, the English subtitle option doesn't work. Now matter how many times you select it, it always plays in French without subtitles. Sacre bleu!!!...more info
  • Great "Micro- History," a new genre in history
    Natalie Davis collaborated with the director Daniel Vigne on his film. Davis' story affords her audience a rare glimpse into the world of peasant life in sixteenth century France. Historically, there are only a few times when the everyday lives of the lower social classes receive comment in history or literature. Students of the humanities have only a few primary source books to examine. The Domesday Book is a collection of census records from eleventh century England. The Canterbury Tales are a fourteenth century collection of tales describing the lives of religious pilgrims in England, authored by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Decameron is also a fourteenth century collection of stories, this time from Italy, written by Giovanni Boccaccio.

    Davis' story focuses on Bertrande de Rols and her place in sixteenth century society, especially as a wife. Bertrande was married to Martin Guerre who was a young peasant of Basque heritage. Both Bertrande and Martin were in their early teens during a time when marriage customs for peasants was changing in Europe. For several years, these two very young kids have trouble consummating their marriage. Davis speculates that Bertrande may have been happy with this circumstance since it gave her a chance to enjoy adolescence and be free of the drudgery of motherhood and all the duties that went with it. This becomes evident by the fact that she refuses to annul her marriage at her parent's insistence. A few years go by before Bertrande conceives and gives birth to a son - her first foray into adulthood. Davis explains how Bertrande, like other peasant women, became even more aware of the male dominated world in which she lived. This is evident by the particle "de" in her name, which was a custom in the area where she lived depicting the social and legal connection female peasants had to the men in their families. She was subordinate to her father, her husband, and finally her widowed mother and her uncle turned stepfather. Frances and Joseph Geis illuminate in detail the customs of family and marriage during this time in history. During the Middle Ages, most peasants did not have formal marriage vows conducted in church. Instead, they vowed to each other to live as common law husband and wife. Formality was not necessary since peasants did not own property; they worked the lands of the nobility as tenant farmers. Marital mores change in the sixteenth century due to the peasant's ability to own land, which in turn causes parents to insist on having more control over their children's marital choices.

    In 1548, Martin runs away from his village of Artigat, France to join the army, leaving his twenty-two year old wife Bertrande and a young son. His abandonment severely reduces Bertrande's social standing in the village. She is no longer a full-fledged wife, nor is she a widow who had property rights. Without a body to prove Martin is dead, she cannot divorce him; thus, she is stuck with her plight. She has to move back in with her mother. In addition, she faces ridicule from peers at every turn. Davis believes that all of these circumstances add up to Bertrande becoming an unhappy person. After eight years of living in quiet desperation, it is no wonder that she would finally find fulfillment of her hopes and dreams of a better life when the imposter Arnaud du Tilh nicknamed "Pansette," shows up in the village in 1548, in the guise of Martin Guerre. Of course, Bertrande would be predisposed to want to believe that her husband had returned to her, which would allow her to regain a better social status in the village. It also meant that Bertrande would be able to have her own household with her husband who inherited land from his recently deceased father. Davis correctly speculates that even if Bertrande soon realizes Pansette is not her husband, she still finds in him a congenial companion and falls in love with him. They also have a daughter together. Davis finds it very plausible that Bertrande would become a willing collaborator, in order to protect her newfound freedom and social standing. The couple's marital bliss unravels the day Pansette argues with his uncle, Pierre Guerre, over his desire to sell off some of the land. This causes Pierre to become suspicious of the identity of his nephew, since it is an old Basque custom never to sell ancestral land, leading him to sue Pansette as an impostor in a court of law. The feud divides the village and finally places a rift between Pansette and Bertrande. Bertrande had originally testified that Pansette was the original Martin. However, before the start of a subsequent court hearing she caves into the enormous pressure from her widowed mother who married Pierre, to change her testimony. Fearing she could lose her good name and social standing in the family and village, she changes her testimony and accuses Pansette of being an imposter.

    Davis comes under heavy criticism from Robert Finlay surrounding the suppositions that she makes about Bertrand's emotions, motivations, and her complicity in the deception perpetrated by Pansette. In Finlay's, article The Refashioning of Martin Guerre he accuses Davis of reading too much into the court record left by Coras. "This Bertrande de Rols seems to be far more a product of invention than of historical reconstruction." Davis, responding to Finlay's criticism of her research methods, more than adequately defends herself in her journal article On the Lame. In it she describes her meticulous research of the court records, social roles and cultural customs of sixteenth century France. "For Davis ... peasant women, are people with sexual as well as economic drives and with cultural traditions and resources which have escaped the eyes of most orthodox historians."

    The social historian Natalie Davis was tireless in her efforts to comb the local archives, judicial records, and in conducting interviews of present day inhabitants of the village Artigat to record the folklore of the "famous case" from their village. Davis has brought to light this micro history of sixteenth century peasant life in France in an easy to understand and compelling film and narrative. What makes the story so interesting to modern day viewers and readers is how relevant the story and the people in it are to our own times. This story is about a history of everyday people rather than royalty and generals, history's usual subjects. The story is replete with mystery and plot twists. It also examines the psychological areas of passion and deceit, while questioning personality formation and the self. In tying all of these sub plots together, Davis presents to her modern day audience a chance to examine and to compare their own identities and questions of self.

    I read this book and saw the movie for a graduate class in the Humanities. Recommended reading for anyone interested in history and, psychology.

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  • American Remakes
    American film makers are unable to capture the glory, passion and conflict of the stories they try to copy. Somersby is a luke warm attempt at this timultuous Depardieu masterpiece. It obviously disturbs me when other reviewers don't know which one came first. (When in doubt .... usually the French film.)...more info
  • An impressive and well made historic canvas!
    1560. Jean de Coras, Toulouse Parliament ` s Counselor, undertakes a rigorous investigation in Artigat, a small French village about the story of an imposture.

    Martin Guerre, in 1542 married with just thirteen years old with Bertrande de Rols of twelve. After a brief familiar incident, he abandons his family (including a child) and departs to the promising adventures around the several religious Wars which razed Europe.

    Eight long years have elapsed sifting over the family the hardest grief. But an unexpected day, Martin reappears with beggar clothes. The whole village celebrated his return, he is smarter, has traveled and learned to read and write, has a prodigious memory, recognizes everybody and reminds the most minimum details. But some days later, a crowd of beggars question his own identity. It's preferable to save a guilty rather than condemn an innocent.

    Daniel Vigne and Jean - Claude Carriere rebuilt one of the best historic canvas the movie has been able to offer us. Reality and fiction are amazingly interweaved to keep the interest until the decisive moment of the surprising resolution of the tram.

    Filmed in natural locations, the accurately and well made stage penetrated in the peasant environment of those ages, as well as a conscious Anthropologic work; from the wedding ritual to exorcism' s myth.

    Films like this, firmly convince us, the real cinema is an art. To my mind, one the top ten French movies of the Eighties.

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