Two households, quite dissimilar in dignity, in France, where we lay our scene; there is the Groseille family, father unable to work since being injured in the Algerian war, living hand-to-mouth in their top floor tenement apartment, stealing electricity from the junction box and swiftly disconnecting the jumper cables when there is an inspection, and across town there is the Le Quesnoy family whose father is coincidentally the head of the electric company.
But there is a deeper connection between the two clans while leads to the clinic of obstetrician Doctor Mavial, a selfish philanderer whose greatest love is wine who learns that hell hath no fury like the other woman scorned, when at the funeral of Mavial’s wife his nurse and lover Josette finally snaps after years of suffering in second place and writes to the two families to inform them of a momentary rage twelve years before where she switched the identities of their newborn children.
A good Christian family, Monsieur Jean et Madame Marielle Le Quesnoy do not believe it would be in the best interests of Bernadette who they have raised to change her situation yet feel their lost son Maurice deserves a chance to have the advantages he has missed so far in life so a substantial cash consideration is made to the Groseille family for his transfer, but assimilating the streetwise Maurice into the bourgeois life will not be not plain sailing.
Released in 1988 in France where it became a huge hit, Life is a Long Quiet River (La Vie est un long fleuve tranquille) was the feature debut of former advertising copywriter Étienne Chatiliez who would later introduce the world to the spiteful Tatie Danielle, directing a script co-written with Florence Quentin and assembling an ensemble largely drawn from theatre and newcomers, two of whom, Hélène Vincent and Catherine Jacob, would receive César awards for their performances.
A comedy of class and aspiration which charts the turbulent relations between and within the two families, M. et Mdme. Le Quesnoy in particular wishing to avoid any disruption to their ordered lives as the ripples spread outwards, the results are unpredictable but never contrived, Chatiliez never indulging the expectation that every plotline needs to be neatly wrapped up, giving the impression that the river keeps flowing long after the camera stops rolling.
Brought to a new audience by Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray release, Life is a Long Quiet River features almost ninety minutes of archive interviews conducted in 2002 with director Chatiliez, actor André Wilms, marvelling that a self-described “left-wing intellectual” could be cast in a bourgeois role such as Jean Le Quesnoy, co-writer Quentin and producer Charles Gassot, offering perspective on Chatiliez and his working practices.