These are some sad stories. Robert Guédiguian unflinchingly directs The Town Is Quiet, a melancholy film in which characters in bitter circumstances make desperate choices, going from bad to worse. Michéle works graveyard shifts at a fish factory, supporting her family. Her husband's been drinking on the dole's tab for three years. Her daughter gives blowjobs to finance her junk habit, completely ignoring her infant. Sucks, huh? Gets spectacularly worse.
Michéle scores her daughter's dope from Gérard, a childhood friend. Their bond, however, is painfully and shadily tense. Peculiarly quiet, grumpy, but solid, he's also down on his luck.
Paul is a former dockworker who betrayed his friends and coworkers, who were out on strike, by accepting severance pay and using it to buy a taxicab. His only sources of companionship are his parents and prostitutes. Then things start getting screwy. Viviane doesn't have it too bad. She gets to blow off her hypocrite husband for a hunky young hiphop artist from North Africa. Then things go horribly wrong.
What makes this film so painful is the fact that its players are endearing and deeply sensitive. Rife with unspoken communication, the characters come out in their solitude. They are made known to the audience through the comfortable silences that old friends share and voyeuristic trails through moments of private contemplation, suppressed squeaks of despair. The dialogue between them is comparatively forgettable. They make some mistakes that you wish you could grudge them for, yet admire the strange perseverance with which they claw out of one miserable hole, if only to fall in another. It's hard to watch, but there is some small comfort in the arbitrary and concrete reality that distributes hard knocks.
The Town is Quiet is not a kind film. However, if you've broken up with your boyfriend or had your cat stolen, it's just the ticket to knead the relatively petty knot out of your guts, squelch the bile creeping up your throat, and make you feel lucky. But if you're as shit-creeked as these characters, you'd better be doing something more productive than hanging out and watching depressing French films.