The House by the Sea

 

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A French family drama set on the coast near Marseille.

 
House by the Sea

Haylana Bechir and Ariane Ascaride

 

I count myself an admirer of the French writer/director Robert Guédiguian who was born in 1953 and made his first feature film in 1981. Over the years, he has found a particular niche in French cinema by setting so many of his films in his birthplace, Marseille. Before he came along the Pagnol trilogy of the 1930s stood alone in cinema as truly epitomising working class life in Marseille, but Guédiguian, so sensitive to its atmosphere and so understanding of its people, has now become its cinematic chronicler. In so doing, he has in effect created his own band of actors headed by his wife Ariane Ascaride and with such regular colleagues as Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan and Jacques Boudet playing alongside her.

 

The House by the Sea is not set directly in Marseille but nearby in a coastal community once decidedly local in character but now largely taken over by outsiders who have acquired property and increasingly catering for tourists. The story centres on one family whose roots lie in this region and shows how a stroke suffered by the elderly father brings the three children back into proximity: there's the daughter, 60-year-old Angèle, an actress (Ascaride), a son, Armand (Meylan) who continues to run a restaurant there and the other son, Joseph (Darroussin), who has taken up with Bérangère (Anaïs Demoustier) who is at least young enough to be his daughter. Tensions within the family born in part of a tragic incident in the past initially appear to be central to the film but we are introduced to other characters too: a young fisherman (Robinson Stévenin), an elderly couple (Boudet and Geneviève Mnich) and their son, Yvan (Yann Trégouët) who has moved away but visits them.

 

The early scenes in The House by the Sea could hardly be more promising being very much in line with one's expectations and with the pleasing addition of shots of passing trains on a viaduct that carry a distinct echo of Ozu's films. But all too soon the plotting in the screenplay loses full conviction. First of all, there are some clumsy flashbacks (especially those linked to that key event in the past) and then the sibling relationships and the comments on social change give way to no less than three love stories, none of them too persuasive as presented. In the case of Joseph and Bérangère information about how they met which would have assisted our sense of belief is kept back for far too long. As for the young fisherman's passion for Angèle based on seeing her on stage some years before, I just didn't buy it despite a very French wooing with quotations from Claudel and much play being made with Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan. The third romance comes in belatedly with a fictional neatness to it. If these elements, too prominent to be regarded as mere incidentals, undermine the realism of the excellent acting, no less damaging is the surprise decision to give over much of the film's last section to a narrative centred on child immigrants at risk of being found by the authorities and dispatched to orphanages. This is promising material in itself but seems to belong to another film entirely. The House by the Sea is an authentic addition to Guédiguian's oeuvre but sadly it's a disappointing one.

 

Original title: La villa.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan, Jacques Boudet, Anaïs Demoustier, Robinson Stévenin, Yann Trégouët, Geneviève Mnich, Fred Ulysse, Haylana Bechir.

 

Dir Robert Guédiguian, Pro Marc Bordure and Robert Guédiguian, Screenplay Robert Guédiguian and Serge Valletti, Ph Pierre Milon, Pro Des Michel Vandestien, Ed Bernard Sasia, Costumes Anne-Marie Giacalone.

 

Agat Films & Cie/France 3 Cinéma/Canal+/Ciné+/France Télévisions-New Wave Films.
107 mins. France. 2017. Rel: 11 January 2019. Cert. 12A.