Like "poor cow" by Ken loach(1967) ,"Gloria Mundi" begins with a childbirth ;it's a cause for celebration for the whole family and they are all near the bed ,marveling at the new baby girl,Gloria (from a movie ,the mom says ,probably John Cassavetes"s);
Like his English peer ,Kenneth Loach,Robert Guédiguian depicts the other side of the mirror ; on the feel-good French scene ,his works are,more than ever ,pivotal ; because they are not exactly what they call 'feel-good" even though they are moments in his work which give the viewer more joy than the trendy hip flicks : the fete ,in "Kilimandjaro" notably .
The world the new baby 's born to is not a rosy one :her grandfather ,Daniel , is a convict ,about to be released from jail and her grandma,Sylvie ,started a new life with Richard ,a bus driver .
A family has got to stand together if they want to survive in the fin de decade ruthless world of Marseille :the soldiers are patrolling in the streets (terrorism is always threatening) , women are still selling their body to eat ( Sylvie after her first husband was arrested became a prostitute before meeting Richard ), the new father is beaten up in an extremely violent scene ,a poor woman does shoplifting, and the son-in-law , Bruno ,opening triumphantly his new shop , seems to have adopted the only-the-strong-survive -motto of the current French government,even if he leaves a member of his family in the cold .
The ex-convict ,now a granddad , did not want to live a routine life and he tells him so to the bus driver ;"but now,he says,I envy you" .He ,who has hardy 600 euros a month to live , will be,all in all ,the happiest character in the days following his release :he writes poetry in his notebook , he takes care of his granddaughter (note how his daughter reluctantly welcomes him :when he takes the baby in his arms ,she shows contempt ,even hatred.He who has been imprisoned for years gets his pleasure from simple things : breathing the open sea air ; when he goes to a room with a prostitute,he leaves her before having sex: he has understood that they are like his sisters ,victims of the society of the leave-them-behind.
Sylvie ,his ex-wife ,comes against the union man ,and refuses to go on strike : she claims that she finds it hard to make both ends meet and that anyway trade unionists are privileged people -which is often true- ;Sylvie is not selfish ,far from it, but she has to help her family ,and in the past ,she got a raw deal .(One must remember that the director is a leftist , close to the communists).
But some sunlight does break through on this one , like on the other Guédiguian works: Mathilda let the shoplifter go , the doctor won't register a complaint against the unfortunate new father ; the writer/director pits their generosity against the Aurore/Bruno couple's cynicism ,pushiness and pettiness.
History never repeats itself ,they say ,but in this family's story, it could .Daniel , the ex-convict is the real hero ,in the noblest term of the term , of the story ;some kind of 2019 Jean Valjean - Guédiguian had already showed Victor's Hugo 's influence : "kilimandjaro was inspired by the writer's poem "les pauvres gens" -,he will sacrifice himself ,so his family can go on .
Like John Cassavetes, Guediguian has his own team of actors: his partner, Ariane Ascaride ,the most compassionate face in the contemporary French cinema ,the always reliable Darroussin who never thinks twice when it comes to playing thankless parts.But this movie belongs to Gérard Meylan , in his restrained but deeply moving performance as a weary man who has nothing but a small baby .
Yes ,we do need Guédiguian ,the poet of the underdogs!
A propos Mr Lippman 's previous insightful review: "your" sequence is easy to spot in the movie ; the young daddy (R.Stevenin) drives a group of American tourists through the streets of Marseille city.Thanks for championing this film!