Friday, October 19, 2012

A Cold and Lonely Place: "Uranus" (1991)



In 1945 liberated France, internal strife was high. Citizens who were suspected of collaboration with the Nazis were imprisoned, even though they were only trying to survive. The Communists were trying to get a foothold, and adding to the problems.

In one bombed out village, one house holds two families and a teacher. The father of one family is Archambaud (Jean-Pierre Marielle). His daughter is sleeping with the son of the local black marketeer. The other family is headed by Communist Gaigneux (Michel Blanc). The teacher, Watrin (Philippe Noiret), holds class in Leopold's (Gerard Depardieu) cafe. A collaborator, Maxime (Gerard Desarthe), is begin hunted, and hides with Archambaud. Communist Rochard (Daniel Prevost) turns in a fake report that Maxime is hiding at Leopold's, and the film quickly turns into a black comedy before the a major character is killed by police.

While the small village tangles with alliances, the film makers do not turn this into a paranoid suspenser. Brutish Leopold fancies himself a poet. After Rochard turns Leopold in, he runs Leopold's cafe out of fear for his life. Maxime and Archambaud's wife grow closer, as Gaigneux makes moves on Archambaud's daughter. The Communists have all sorts of hushed meetings about errant members, and hypocrisy is the rule of the isolated town. The title "Uranus" comes from Watrin reading of the cold and distant planet right before his wife was killed in an Allied bombing...she was with her lover at the time.

Berri's direction is simple and unobtrusive. The cast is big enough to keep the viewer interested, but does not bloat itself into a three hour foreign film epic. The characters are some of the most well written to ever come out of France. The audience goes along on an emotional roller coaster with these all too human people, but the film makers never make their script obvious.

"Uranus" is a complete surprise, as France deals with a war that killed thousands of its people, a war who's memory is still dredged up sixty years after the fact. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Uranus [VHS]