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Film / The Return of Martin Guerre

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The Return of Martin Guerre (Le Retour de Martin Guerre) is a 1982 French historical film directed by Daniel Vigne and starring Gérard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye. It is inspired by the affair of the same name.

In 16th-century South-West France, Martin Guerre is a young man married to Bertrande de Rols. One day, he disappears from his village. Nine years later, a man claiming to be Martin Guerre (Depardieu) returns and everybody recognizes him, including his wife Bertrande (Baye). Progressively, doubts about his true identity arise. Things become more serious when he demands money from his uncle.

Sommersby, an American remake, was released in 1993.


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The Return of Martin Guerre provides examples of:

  • Based on a True Story: Based on the actual Martin Guerre case.
  • Becoming the Mask: Arnaud du Tilh really enjoys his role as Martin Guerre. In particular, he falls in love with his wife Bertrande.
  • Clear My Name: The protagonist is accused to be an impostor and an adulterer. He tries to prove that he is not guilty. Subverted because he is guilty of these crimes. He ends up sentenced to death.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Arnaud du Tilh impersonated one of his soldier comrades, Martin Guerre. Subverted: in the end, it is revealed the real Martin Guerre is not dead: he shows up at the trial.
  • Evil Uncle: Uncle Pierre Guerre tries to kill the man who pretends to be his nephew. He uses any means to get him sentenced for identity theft. Subverted because he is right: this guy is an impostor.
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  • A Fool for a Client: The man who pretends to be Martin Guerre represents himself at the Parliament of Toulouse and he is quite good at it. Actually, he would have come through, had the real Martin Guerre not showed up.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: At the end of the trial, the real Martin Guerre shows up and confronts Arnaud du Tilh.
  • Framing Device: The first part of the film is told trough flashbacks during Rolande's interrogation by Jean de Coras.
  • Idiot Ball: As doubts about his identity are arising, the man who pretends to be Martin Guerre decides to demand money from his uncle and even threatens to sue him if he does not give in. This encourages his uncle, who has defended him so far, to take the lead of the people who question his identity.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: Arnaud du Tilh is quite good at impersonating Martin Guerre, but he made some mistakes: he did not recognize some people, he did not know where the candles were stored in his house, and, more importantly, he was gentle to his wife, while Martin Guerre was aloof.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Rolande says Arnaud du Tilh made her understand she should recognize the real Martin Guerre as her husband at the trial so that she will not be found guilty too. So he saved her and accepted the fact that she would live with Martin Guerre again.
  • I Will Wait for You: Bertrande de Rols waits for her husband during nine years and she remains faithful to him. Subverted, because when an impostor shows up after nine years, she accepts him as her husband, even if she knows he is not Martin Guerre.
  • Law Procedural: In 16th-century France. The film shows the investigations of the judge Jean de Coras and the climax is the trial before the Parliament of Toulouse.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The young Martin Guerre cannot have sex with her wife and becomes the laughing stock of the village.
  • Preferable Impersonator: Arnaud du Tilh is a loving husband and father, while Martin Guerre was aloof. Therefore, Bertrande falls for him.
  • The Reveal: The real Martin Guerre appears suddenly at the trial, so we know the other guy is probably Arnaud du Tilh.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Arnaud du Tilh and Bertrande. Despite being a loving husband and father, Arnaud is executed for his impersonation of Martin Guerre and for committing adultery due to the strict Catholic laws prohibiting divorce, while Bertrande is forced to remain married to a man who cares nothing for her.
  • Stern Old Judge: Jean de Coras is an older judge. He is stern since he sentences Arnaud du Tilh to death.
  • Surprise Witness: The real Martin Guerre shows up at the very end of the trial.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: In the end, the narrator voice tells the audience that years later Jean de Coras was executed because he was a protestant.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Martin Guerre's identity is confirmed by Jean de Coras in Artigat due to lack of evidence to the contrary, and his uncle is humiliated and ordered to pay restitution. Except we're only an hour into this two-hour movie...

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