Marie-Jo and Her Two Loves, London film festival

London film festival

Director Robert Guédiguian returns to his native Marseilles - beautifully and reverently photographed - and to his repertory company of actors: Ariane Ascaride (his wife), Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Gerard Meylan. All give performances of great dignity and emotional seriousness. The story has a personal rather than a political theme. It looks like a classic case of infidelity, but is actually an anguished tale of dual fidelity.

Marie-Jo is a happily married mother played by Ascaride; she is, in the words of the cheesy old Mary McGregor song, torn between two lovers. Her husband Didier (Darroussin) is a decent, hard-working guy to whom she is devoted. But she is also secretly devoted to the more glamorous and rugged Marco (Meylan). Eventually, her husband discovers what is going on and Marie-Jo leaves the family home to set up, temporarily, with Marco - to the rage of her grown-up daughter.

In the publicity material for this film, the director included a quotation from Dante's Divine Comedy - the opening lines about waking up in a dark wood in the middle of one's life. Certainly it can be read as a kind of mid-life crisis, albeit one of more refinement and even nobility than that which afflicts menopausal men who desert their wives for younger models. Marie-Jo insists that her feelings for the two men are utterly equivalent in their authenticity, but this is a balance that doesn't make anyone happier. Is such a situation possible in real life? Or is Guédiguian's movie a dubiously fictional enactment of the way unfaithful people kid themselves, and how they wish to evade painful choices? I'm not sure.

The film sets itself up in an emotional tangle, which it is finally unable to escape or explain satisfactorily. But the performances and Guédiguian's storytelling are substantial enough to compel attention, if not assent.

· At Odeon West End, London WC2, today at 3.30pm. Box office: 020-7928 3232.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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