the ballad of the poor people in Marseille

the ballad of the poor people in Marseille


Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) in “Les Neiges du Kilimanjaro” (2011), by Robert Guédiguian.


It has been thirty years since Robert Guédiguian, stationed in the port of l’Estaque, in Marseilles, with the same gang of actors, sent death announcements from the revolutionary utopia, against a backdrop of the disintegration of the working class, when He goes out The Snows of Kilimanjaro, in 2011. The title is that of a popular song, created by Pascal Danel in 1966, which was, in its time, number one in sales in France, slow serving more to wrap than to evoke the shroud intended for the hero of the short story by Ernest Hemingway from which it is inspired.

This misunderstanding looks a bit like the films of Robert Guédiguian. Here, the ritornello sounds halfway through, interpreted by relatives and friends, during a party given for the wedding anniversary of Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride). This moment of simple happiness is the nodal point of a film which includes its before and its after.

The front begins frontally, with a redundancy plan among the dockers, negotiated with the CGT union, of which Michel is one of the old militants. Twenty heads are requested, the syndicate has chosen to draw them by lot. Michel, who has made it an honor not to forget himself among the paper casseroles, takes his name and sounds like he can retire.

Nothing insurmountable, even if it smells a little like death. Especially since there is this dream of a great trip to the land of Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, that their relatives gave them for their wedding anniversary.

ruthless revenge

And then comes the after. A peaceful dinner at home, the violent irruption of two armed individuals, the robbery of their savings, bank cards, travel tickets. Michel, his shoulder dislocated, broods over his rage. A pure chance (beautiful screenplay find) puts him on the trail of one of his thieves and will transform his anger into an abyss that opens under his feet. Because this thief, he knows him, he is one of his own, a worker (played by Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). This betrayal of class solidarity, this advent of a precarious and atomized world in the jungle prepare quite logically for the story of a ruthless revenge.

All the skill and all the greatness of Robert Guédiguian’s film consist in letting this vengeance take place by creating the conditions necessary to extricate forgiveness from it. We will not say here how. We will simply say that the film, which teems with scenes and characters both seen and felt, therefore dissociates the respective paths of the thief, Michel and Marie-Claire, to bring them together in a finale in front of which anyone who has had the good idea of ​​going to see this film will not be able to prevent her tears from flowing. The feat is not small when it comes to a melodrama, whose springs, borrowed from Poor people, of Victor Hugo, are so political.

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