22 November 2021

Robert Guédiguian's L'Argent fait le bonheur (1992)

At the beginning of Joseph Mai's short analysis of L'Argent fait le bonheur in Robert Guédiguian, he says that his old friend, now television producer, Jean-Pierre Cottet, agreed to finance his next film if it was a kind of comedy with no deaths and an upbeat ending. After Guédiguian's last two films that may have seemed a tall order, although he teamed with Jean-Louis Milesi for the screenplay.

This is said to mark a turn in Guédiguian's film-making, not away from communism as such but away from any faith in policical party dogma, towards a neighbourhood group mentality. Here perhaps in particular, religion – often present in Guédiguian's other films as, along with communism, a signifier of love – is strongly present. This is Guéduian's first 'Conte de l'Estaque'.

Most of the film takes is shot in and around the HLMs of Plan d'Aou in L'Estaque, now much changed but in the film where le curé has his unconventional makeshift semi-circular corrugated iron church which is the place of wedding celebration as well as important discussions. Le curé, speaking in the present, turns directly to the audience with a gun in his hand which has just been handed in to him as no longer being of use, and tells us that the film we are about to see will go from bad and move to good. And we see le curé in the film trying to keep the peace in a familiar Guédiguiuian peoplescape in which the working classes have now been divided into thieving classes, drug-taking classes, neo-fascist classes, prostituting classes, internecine classes in which divide and rule appears to have been spectacularly acheived without even the visual presence of the dominant bourgeois class. Le curé picks up the used syringes in the morning and distributes new ones and condoms to those who ask for them.

Here, everyone knows each other, life is played out as much in the courtyard as inside the HLM flats, and the courtyard can play a very dramatic role. We meet Simona Viali (Ariane Ascaride), whose husband has died in a burglary, who makes a living selling stolen property and whose son steals her own property*; Muñoz (Géard Meylan), who used to burgle with her husband but is now a bank warden and a fascist; the communist Degros; the Muslim Amzoulah family; etc.

Near the beginning, a yellow line divided the HLM, a line beyond which the rival gangs are not allowed to cross. It takes the women hatching a plot in the church to bring the HLM into a community, the elderly overall-wearing beer-drinking men to dance with each other, the different races to join as one, the yellow dividing line to be rubbed out. Guédiguian's promise to Cottet was not broken, although this seems very much a fantasy than a reality: and can it really be that the ununiformed curé has now got together with Simona?

*Guédiguian sometimes has a tendency to see friendship as a stronger bond than the family.

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