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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 GĂ©rard Depardieu, Nathalie Baye and Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu. It is inspired by the historical case of the same name.

In 16th-century South-West France, Martin Guerre is a young man married to Bertrande de Rols. One day, he runs away from his village. Nine years later, a man claiming to be Martin Guerre (Depardieu) returns and everybody recognizes him, including his wife Bertrande (Baye). Over time, various people in the village begin to doubt that this man is the real Martin Guerre. Things come to a head when he demands money from his uncle, who responds by accusing him of being an impostor.

Sommersby, an American remake, was released in 1993.

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.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: The reason that the case goes as long as it does is that for every piece of evidence that Martin is an imposter, there's evidence he is not. Martin's Uncle bribing men to join a group assault on him (confirmed by witnesses) damages his credibility, so even when two strangers outright say they know Martin is an imposter, the possibility of them being bribed by the uncle to do so is given.
  • 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.
  • Downer Ending: After a very lengthy court trial, it's finally settled that Martin is an imposter, a soldier named Arnaud who fought alongside the real Martin in the war and decided to take his place. Arnaud is sentenced to death, and Bertrande is only spared the same by playing the victim of deception, at Arnaud's request. Arnaud is publicly executed, and Bertrande, once again stuck in a miserable marriage, watches her lover die.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: When reuniting with Bertrande after nine years, Martin exclaims with lovestruck wonder, "My wife is beautiful!" "Martin" is actually an imposter, so this was likely Arnaud marvelling at his luck.
  • 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 his wife and becomes the laughing stock of the village.
  • Love at First Sight: At the end of the court trial, when Arnaud is giving his confession, he says that he almost came clean about being an imposter at the beginning, but fell head over heels for Bertrande the second he saw her. Thus, he decided to keep the lie going.
  • 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.
  • Sexual Karma: Part of Bertrande's defense of her husband not being an imposter is that he knows details only a husband would—such as "what to say before, during, and after" (to the catcalls of the court). Sadly, this is actually a clue that he is an imposter, as Bertrande and the real Martin's sex life was only part of their wholly miserable marriage. Imposter though he is, Arnaud genuinely loves Bertrande.
  • 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...