Dianne Foster | USA | 06/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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.After 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 intriging. 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."
A Moving True Story
Octavius | United States | 08/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Daniel Vigen directs this touching 1983 film on the real events surrounding the life of Martin Guerre in late 16th century France. A moving story brought to life by the great acting of Gerard Depardieu and a strong supporting cast.
The film involves the life of a well-to-do farmer in 16th century France (not the Middle Ages and the Hundred Years War as erroneously claimed by the main reviewer!) Bored with farming and searching for adventure, Martin Guerre, a man who cares little for women or husbandry, goes off to war and leaves behind his beautiful wife (Nathalie Baye.) Years have past and the wife lives a solitary life of chastity while she awaits the return of her husband. An impostor (Gerard Depardieu) comes back as Martin Guerre to embrace his wife but suspicions abound. How long will this clever plot work? Will the wife find out? What happens to the real Martin Guerre?
The reviewers who claim this story to be fiction or exaggerated are clearly unfamiliar with French history as this story is completely true: all of the minute details of this tragic story were preserved in a 16th century court manuscript that recorded all of the testimonies and the verdict of the court. This touching film follows the lives of real historical characters who, although simple late Rennaissance peasants, risked the scorn of their peers and the infliction of serious criminal penalties for true love: it's a moving tragedy to watch. The story was well adapted to the screen and has good acting. If you're not into the Renaissance scene, you can watch the Americanized second-rate version of the story in the 1993 film 'Sommersby' with Richard Gere and Jodi Foster.
Why, O Why
jefke kiekeboe | antwerp | 06/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Great movie, concur with the other comments, but what moron decided to cut the beautiful love scene between Depardieu and Baye from the DVD (the one just before he gets arrested the 2nd time). The perpetrator should be flayed and hanged and everybody who bought the DVD should be provided with a free replacement that includes this scene to compensate for the emotional anguish at seeing this jewel damaged by an incompetent, hypocritical editor."
Great "Micro- History," a new genre in history
Michael A Neulander | VA | 12/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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.