24 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's À la place du cœur (1998)

An amateur review of Robert Guédiguian's À la place du cœur gave the title 'L'Amour en noir et blanc', and I can't find a better one. The first of Guédiguian's films based on a novel: the director went to New York to gain the rights to James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), and although Kantcheff reveals that Guédiguian thought of calling this 'Si l'Estaque pouvait parler' ('If L'Estaque Could Talk'), Guédiguian thought that this didn't sound right: I don't think he bothered to say why.

Obviously Guédiguian's film adaptation of Baldwin's novel – set in Harlem with a title referring to a steet in Memphis and probably indirectly to W. C. Handy's 'Beale Street Blues' – would undergo some evolution when translated to fin-de-siècle Marseille: this is a largely white cast; the mother's trip is to Sarajevo rather than Puerto Rico; and the ending is upbeat.

Clim (Laure Raoust) is the daughter of Marianne (Arine Ascaride) and Joël (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and has been the strong friend of the Bébé (Alex Ogou), who has been adopted by Francine (Christine Brücher) and Franck (Gérard Meylan), since childhood. Bébé is eighteen and Clim sixteen, they inevitably become lovers and want to marry, and Clim is pregnant. Despite their young age, and the fact that Bébé is only a hopeful sculptor, they have the consent of their respective parents: in fact the fathers do a drunken celebratory dance in a bar to Armstrong's version of 'Beale Street Blues'. In a later remininscent moment we return to the characters of Darrousssin and Ascaride in Ki lo sa ?, a film made fifteen years before, but where Joël here is made to think of his younger self unfurling a bed sheet to reveal a back view of a naked Ascaride (now seen as Marianne).

The upbeat ending comes when Bébé – imprisoned by a racist cop who has framed him by accusing him of rape – is saved by Marianne travelling to Sarajevo to get his accuser to drop the rape charge. The strength of family and friends once again prove to be of overwhelming importance in Guédiguian's world.

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