Shortly following its opening pan of Marseilles, we witness a protest for the increase of dockers’ redundancy pay. At first, it appears The Town is Quiet will follow in the vein of Ken Loach’s social realism, but director Robert Guediguian (Marius and Jeannette) is more interested in the resultant mental states of the characters rather than the actions taken to survive poverty.
Turning tricks to support her habit, Ameline (Veronique Balme) is a pregnant mother reduced to a quivering, bed-ridden lump. With her father entirely passive, her determined mother Michele (Guidiguin’s wife and oft-collaborator Ariane Ascaride) becomes addicted to quelling Ameline’s pain and soon starts supporting the habit through prostitution like her daughter. Her customer is Paul (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a lonesome and deceitful taxi-driver living life through his passengers. Supplying her with drugs is Gerard (Gerard Meylan), an elusively blank character who remains ambiguous until the film’s revelatory end.
Guediguian explores the racial tensions and right-wing fanaticism engulfing the working-class with frightening pace. His dialogue is at once gritty, rough and deeply philosophical – down to the slightest character. He has drawn significance and emotional intensity through the characters’ ambiguities, which are provocative but rarely confusing.
Far less hysterical than its themes may suggest, the predominant drama is restrained until the film’s disturbing climax, in which the understated subtleties that permeate throughout the film erupt into harsh, unforgettable melodrama.