Tous les Matins du Monde

(All the Mornings of the World, France - 1991)

by Vanes Naldi

Cast: Jean-Pierre Marielle, Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, Guillaume Depardieu, Carole Richert
Genre: Drama
Director: Alain Corneau
Screenplay: Alain Corneau, Pascal Quignard (based on his novel)
Cinematography: Yves Angelo
Composer: Jordi Savall
Runtime: 114 minutes

"You're not a musician, you play music"

Tous le Matins Du Monde won seven Cesars, the French Oscars, and it's easy to understand why. It's the perfect French film, with splendid narration, gorgeous costumes, great interiors, and the not surprising impeccable acting from its leads. What helps this film emerge from the rest is the way music is used to enhance the story and the way the soundtrack and cinematography take advantage of the film's main message, the relationship between music, love, and love for music.

The film narrates the (real) story of Monsieur De Sainte-Colombe, and adds a few touches to make it a better film. The story begins with his pupil Marin Marais, now old and with a sad look in his eyes, playing in front of his students and, with tears in his eyes, proclaiming that he's a failure in comparison to his old teacher. Thus, the flashback begins.

Sainte-Colombe was indeed a musical genius. He helped improve the art of playing the "viola da gamba" (what would become the instrument known as "cello") by adding a seventh string, which increased depth and gave a new dimension to the experience of playing the instrument. He also improved the way the instrument was handled, the positions and the fingering. While his musical artwork was acknowledged, little was know about his personal life: when and where he was born, his first name, when he died. The biggest gift he gave to the world was his pupil Marais, who, thanks to his teaching, became better than he was in a few months. Here, his progression is slower, to help develop better the relationship between him and his teacher.

The reason people didn't know enough about Sainte-Colombe was his style of life. After the death of his wife, he chose a life of reclusion, Puritanism, and grief against the ostentation of life in the court where he used to play before his wife died. Here he teaches his daughters and endlessly plays beautiful music that goes unheard, if not by his daughters. Then Marais enters the picture.

Marais, played by Gerard Depardieu's son Guillame, demands Sainte-Colombe's wisdom and asks him to teach him to play the viola like he does (after being thrown out of a choice because his voice became too low and deep, he promised himself he'd become a famous viola player). At first, the teacher is reluctant, so reluctant he says Marais will never be a real musician because he lacks heart and soul. He tells him he'd become a famous viola player, play in Court, and make a lot of money, but he'd never be a musician, never experience what music is all about.

The student-teacher relationship develops, but along the way Sainte-Colombe's daughters show interest in the young lad, in particular the oldest one, Madeleine (Anne Brochet). From the beginning, Madeleine is the daughter who helped Marin overcome the initial reaction of her reluctant and uncompromising father. Eventually, Marin falls in love with her and is banished from the house for this and "selling out" to the court by getting a job there and playing for the King.

The reason Sainte-Colombe was so adamant and full of hatred toward people living in the court goes beyond his choice of life. He was a Jansenist. Jansenists were Christians who, among other things, didn't agree with the Jesuits' way of living, with their ostentation, luxury, and superfluous garments and wigs. Instead, they decided to live a simpler life. After choosing to return to his life of loneliness and solitude where he could play his music and experience music perfection, he was reluctant to share it with the outside world again. He was reluctant to let people who weren't worthy of experiencing this level of music have the chance to hear his music. Sainte-Colombe was not offended by Marais writing music inspired by the style he taught him, but that he wrote it with the intention of playing it in front of the people whose lifestyle Sainte-Colombe despised so much.

Marais didn't lose everything. With the help of Madeleine, he continued hearing Sainte-Colombe's performances during the night, hiding beneath the wooden shack where Sainte-Colombe spent countless hours playing and thinking about his loved departed wife. In time, Marais becomes addicted to life in Court, and forgets his allegiance to the Sainte-Colombe family, leaving them to their fate and becoming one of the most famous composers of the time.

Like his teacher told him many times, his virtuosity was incomplete. He was missing something from his music, soul, so he began sneaking into and hiding beneath the wooden shack again. Now an adult (played by Gerard Depardieu), Marais tries to find new evolutions, airs and arpeggios from the hand and the mind of his teacher. What he finds out is that, due to his daughter's illness, Sainte-Colombe has come to a point where he doesn't want to use the viola anymore. He feels great hatred because life has taken the thing he loved most, his wife, and now is about to rob him of his daughter as well. Marais goes there every night for 3 years hoping to hear his teacher's music again. Finally, on one full moon lit night, Sainte-Colombe plays again and asks for a man to share his thoughts, to talk for real about music so he can die in peace.

Marais reveals himself again, and he admits what the teacher told him years before. He now knows what music is all about, what it means and why. They share their thoughts, their experiences, and finally play the song he composed for his dying daughter together....

The story is not only beautiful, but it's multi-layered. There are many subplots involving relationships. There's the relationship between Sainte-Colombe and Marais, Sainte-Colombe's and his departed wife who is still present in spirit and his "company" during his sleepless nights, and the love affair between Madeleine and Marais that results in tragedy. Ultimately, it's a cry against the luxury of the Jesuits and an ode to the purism of music, to the inner beauty and the meaning of it. It's a touching story, and while the script might lead to overly dramatic points, what really sets it apart from other dramas is the use of music and the way it's portrayed.

The reason the acting is so good here is because they have to rely on facial expression more than dialogue. There's the added difficulty of effectively portraying someone's feelings while he's playing an instrument. What really speaks here is MUSIC, with beautiful compositions from Sainte-Colombe and Marais themselves, Lully, Couperin, and the masterful direction of one of the greatest bass viola artists in the world, Jordi Savall.

Usually, when the movie centers upon music and musicians, you see scenes with them playing where the level of believability ranges from adequate to pathetic. The reason that happens so often is the actors are given minimal training; they expect they'll touch a trumpet's pistons at random and it'll look believable.

Tous Le Matin Du Monde features the best "fake" playing I've ever seen. I've seen good performances, for instance Denzel Washington in Mo' Better Blues and Sean Penn in Sweet and Lowdown. Here though, not only does the hand match the note that is being played in an almost flawless way, the actors add that emotion, that facial expression that people who play with intensity showcase. It's a very difficult task to look believable with an instrument like the viola because you've got to be coordinated, show emotions and have very flexible and harmonious movement from fingers to arms.

The majority of the cast gives impeccable performances. Gerard Depardieu conveys Marais' depression in a great way, while Jean-Pierre Marelle gives a great, taciturn performance. Anne Brochet is excellent as well. Gerard's son Guillame shows great screen presence. His performance was good, but he's still a bit rough on the edges and a bit wooden.

The soundtrack is obviously magnificent and greatly emphasized given the subject matter. The CD became one of the best sellers for soundtracks in France.

The interiors and costumes look stunning, recreating 1600's France in a great way because the weak lighting and a great use of shadows during that period is highlighted. Tous Le Matin Du Monde is not only a beautiful story about love and music, but also a great experience for the eyes and the ears.




* Copyright 2001 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *