The challenge faced here by writer-director Robert Guédiguian (Charge!) is to keep his cheap melodrama from curdling his insightful societal appraisal. Michèle (Ariane Ascaride) is a dutiful young grandmother in Marseille, working nights packing fish to support her useless husband, Claude (Pierre Banderet), her junkie-prostitute daughter Fiona (Julie-Marie Parmentier) and the baby nobody wanted. Against a backdrop of economic despair, bombastic politics and covert racism euphemistically called "national preference," Michèle is stretched to her limits. Eventually, she turns to her dubious old boyfriend Gérard (Gérard Meylan) to supply Fiona's fixes--shades of Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth--which Michèle pays for by prostituting herself to a kind but naïve cab driver named Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). With his self-destructive compassion and strident socialist ethics, Paul--a complex character, like the cabbie in Pavel Lounguine's Taxi Blues--reveals Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver to be little more than a puerile tantrum. Guédiguian's world is much more troubling, tricked out with lazy liberals, murderous conservatives, clichéd trysts, god-awful rappers, even a hilarious neo-pagan caricature. Ultimately, the director plays overbearing god to them all, using the martyred Michèle to drive his points down our throats, but the fine supporting cast superbly explores his complex town.
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