Synopsis: One of the most celebrated motion pictures to explore the art of music, Tous les Matins du Monde presents renowned actor Gérard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac, Jean de Florette) and an all star international cast in a provocative tale of romance, lust, desire and devotion. Based on the lives of 17th century French composer Sainte Colombe and his protégé Maarin Marais, this cinematic masterpiece also features a best selling classical soundtrack performed and conducted by Jordi Savall.
eyelights: its breathtaking score. Gérard Depardieu. Anne Brochet. the gorgeous locations and locales.
eyesores: its slow pace. its grim tone.
“All the mornings of the world never return.”
‘Tous les matins du monde’ is a French motion picture directed by Alain Corneau. Released in 1991, it was the big winner at the 17th César Awards in 1992, winning 7 of its 11 nominations. It was also nominated for and has won many other prestigious international awards.
Based on the eponymous historical novel by Pascal Quignard (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Corneau), it recounts the tense dynamic between French composer Marin Marais and his mentor, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, renowned master of the viola da gamba.
In this tale, Sainte-Colombe had extremely high standards and, after the death of beloved spouse, was known to spend 17 hours a day locked up in a shack at the back of his property, playing his instrument. He was equally demanding of his students, which included his two daughters.
Marin Marais was a former child chorist who lost his voice and subsequently decided to master the viol to compensate for it. Skilled though he was, Saint-Colombe didn’t consider him a musician. Still, sympathizing with his personal pain, he took him on as an apprentice.
Told in flashback by an older Marais (played by Gérard Depardieu, who also narrates), it tells the story of that complex relationship, as well as the ones that Marais developed with Sainte-Colombe’s daughters – particularly the eldest, Madeleine, with whom he had a secret affair.
Although ‘Tous les matins du monde’ is about music, and is truly a music-lover’s movie (it features lengthy silences filled with some of the most pristine compositions ever), at its core it’s actually a tragic love story. Times two: Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe’s and Madeleine’s.
On the one hand, permanently heartbroken, Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe’s path was completely forged through the ashes of his wife’s passing. He even began to have visions of her, believing her to be with him when he played the viola – or, that if it was an illusion, it was a benign one.
On the other hand, Madeleine’s love for Marin grew to the degree that she betrayed her father’s wishes, who had expelled his student for not being up to snuff, sneaking him beneath the cabin to listen to the master play. When he left her, she became deathly ill and never recovered.
For me, however, it’s hard to remember the drama: when I first saw the movie, twenty years ago, I fell in love with the music. I bought the soundtrack and have played it to death. In fact, although I’d wanted to pick up the movie, I only got it recently – this was only my second viewing.
Having said this, it deserves all the acclaim: it’s a gorgeous film on so many levels, as much from an emotional standpoint as a visual one (Yves Angelo’s award-winning cinematography is beautiful, and the French palaces, churches, …etc., are an unforgettable sight) as an aural one.
The cast is also magnificent: Jean-Pierre Marielle is pitch-perfect (no pun intended) as Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, Gérard Depardieu is excellent as the older, bloated and exhausted Marin, and Anne Brochet certainly proved her worth as Madeleine, garnering a César for it.
Even Guillaume Depardieu was good as the younger Marin. despite this being his first major role and not having the intensity and discipline of his father. At the very least, given his resemblance, he could pass as the younger Marin. Of note, he improved and went on to win a César in 1996.
Which leads me to the casting of Gérard Depardieu and Anne Brochet. Although it was quite a coup to get them together again after the tremendous success of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac‘, I think it was ambitious and maybe a bit unrealistic to put them on the screen together again.
The thing is, the older Marin only returns to visit Madeleine on her death bed, and while she is frail-looking and worn, he looks significantly older than she does; the contrast is especially jarring after having watched Brochet play against Guillaume in the earlier scenes.
I don’t quite understand why they didn’t simply recast the older Madeleine with a doppelgänger for Brochet so as to avoid this. That would have worked wonders, just as it did for the younger Madeleine (they found a stupendous lookalike in Violaine Lacroix!).
Still, despite this small faux pas, ‘Tous les matins du monde’ is a tremendous picture. Yes, it’s slow and atmospheric, but it’s incredibly potent on many levels. It lacks the passion and heat of something like ‘The Piano‘, but it’s nonetheless a picture that any music lover should see.
And it will resonate with anyone who likes tragic love stories.
Date of viewing: January 8, 2016