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Life is a Long Quiet River Review

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The Quesnoys (prim, Von Trapp-like vegetable eaters) and the Groseilles (gambling, drunken slobs) are forced to interact when a disgruntled nurse brings upheaval in the shape of a maternity-ward error - she, so she inexplicably says, gave each family the wrong baby twelve years ago.

★★★★

Meet the Quesnoys and the Groseilles, two very different families enjoying spring in the little town of Bapaume in northern France. The Quesnoys are ramrod-backed swots: mum and dad and five children, who all dutifully eat their greens, say their prayers, tidy their rooms and do their homework. The Groseilles, on the other hand, are gross: dad fritters away his days playing poker while mum reads crime comics and the kids smoke fags, sniff glue and get pissed.

Their worlds head for a collision-course, though, when Josette, the ever-faithful nurse of the local obstetrician, realises that her master is never going to marry her, even after his wife kicks the bucket. In a fit of pique, she tells him she swapped two babies 12 years ago (guess from which two families?), and the good doctor blurts the whole thing out to the Quesnoys.

The Groseilles are happy to take a bribe for their kid, and still let the Quesnoys keep theirs. But nothing is ever as simple as that, and all sorts of culture-clash scrapes ensue as the two children try to come to terms with where they really belong. With elements of a Gallic John Waters filtered through the bile of Bunuel, it’s hardly surprising that Life has been a monster hit in France and the winner of four Cesars (French Oscars). It’s only flaw is structural: it starts too slowly, and becomes a raging torrent by the time it reaches the sea. First-time feature director Chatiliez, one of France’s leading commercial makers, gets his revenge on class, commercialism and the more crass aspects of our long placid river, with hilarious and savage results.

A tale founded on factions that will draw a worldwide audience, but full of pleasingly loud Gallic flair, too.