Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982)

*This is a review of the film in its original French language, viewed with English subtitles. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the dubbed version, which I’ve heard does not do the actors justice!

Le Retour de Martin Guerre (The Return of Martin Guerre) (1982): 4.5/5

Based on true accounts in 16th century France, Le Retour de Martin Guerre tells… the story of Martin Guerre. Guerre was a peasant who became involved in a famous imposture case after leaving town – including his wife and child. He mysteriously returns years later, but suspicions begin to arise that the man who returned to the town is not the real Martin Guerre.

Gerard Depardieu portrays the man who returns and claims to be Martin. Nathalie Baye plays Martin’s wife, Bertrande, who readily accepts her returning husband. Maurice Barrier supports as Martin’s uncle, Pierre Guerre.

The entire cast, from leads to even the smallest supporting members, is successful. The individual performances are well-executed, and the actors play well off of each other as well. Some performances are stronger than others, but in general all are solid.

The plot is sometimes slow-moving, but the performances keep the film going. Particularly striking is Baye, who is all at once strong-willed and heartbroken as she deals with the town’s accusations of Martin.

And speaking of the plot, this is probably one of the best historically-based films I’ve seen thus far. I’m no expert on the Martin Guerre story, but only a few fabricated scenes to pump up the romance and drama. The ending, for example, was fictionalized for dramatic effect.

Other than these few added dramatizations – which are quite easy to recognize from the true, historically based material – the film appears to be fairly accurate. This was probably what I liked most about the film. It’s rare to watch a piece of historical fiction, or even a period film, without pointing out glaring factual errors every 3.5 seconds.

In addition to being generally accurate, the film’s premise is extremely interesting, as anyone familiar with the story of Martin Guerre already knows. The viewer’s eyes remain glued to the film, wondering whether or not the Martin who has come back is actually Martin, and what the consequences will be if he has been lying.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming review of the American adaptation of the Martin Guerre story, shifted to fit into the Reconstruction era: Sommersby (1993) starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.

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