THE FILM'S French, it's called "Life is a Long Quiet River." So I walk in thinking peace, love, Buddha, languid, rustic, maybe a babbling brook or two . . .
Then I see the movie. I realize life -- at least, in this Gallic representation thereof -- is pretty much a meandering, muddy oxbow.
Here's the situation. In a small French city, a bomb explodes outside a grocery store run by an Algerian (Abbas Zahmani). Racism is suspected. Okay, a movie about race relations in France. Fine. Topical. Sounds interesting. But no. You hardly hear from that theme again.
We move on to an extramarital relationship between an aging doctor and his nurse. This affair's been going on for 12 years. The doctor (Daniel Gelin) claims to be waiting for his ailing wife to go. The nurse (Catherine Hiegel) is impatient and presses him to make a decision. She waited 12 years to bring this up? And if she's been bugging him for 12 years, why is she sticking around? And for that matter, why is the doctor (who clearly finds her irritating) sticking around? Maybe it's because life is a long, quiet river.
The movie flows on. Now it becomes the story of two families, one bourgeois, one lower class. The uppercrusters, led by a priggish father (Andre Wilms) and resiliently chipper mother (Helene Vincent) live one extended regimen of dinnertime, homework time, playtime and sailing lessons. The lower classers are a slovenly, overweight, tattooed collection of trash blanche, and appear to have seen too many John Waters movies. They play cards, the kids go pickpocketing, the mother spits at the television.
These disparate plot elements come together, very gradually. I'm trying to think whether telling you the big connection will spoil the movie. Would you take a half-clue? It involves a rich man-poor man switcheroo, and matters come to a head when the scorned nurse starts giving away some family secrets.
French director Etienne Chatiliez, who comes from a background of television, seems to have problems directing believable incidents involving believable people. The figures you see running around are farcical caricatures posing as characters. Every emotional moment (and this movie of multiple hurt feelings is full of them) is either patly treated or blithely avoided. When real conflict rushes in, it seems, that's grounds for a fade-out or a commercial break.
LIFE IS A LONG QUIET RIVER (Unrated) -- In French with subtitles. At the Key.