Robert Guédiguian, subject of this year's Toronto International Film Festival's director spotlight, is the cinematic voice of Marseilles, the old port city on France's Mediterranean coast. Which is rather like being the chief cinematic voice of Newark -- Marseille, to judge from the films, is old, rundown and legendarily crime-riddled. The glamour part of that coast is about a hundred miles to the east.
Outside of the festival circuit, his films are little seen in North America, and even in Europe he worked in obscurity for almost 15 years until making a splash with 1997's Marius Et Jeannette. By locating himself away from the mainstream of French cinema -- that is, away from Paris -- he guaranteed that he'd be left alone, but also that he'd be ignored. The 50-year-old director has made 11 films since 1980; this is a chance to see a body of work that, while consistent, is a bit dull.
His small and realistic films generally star his wife, Ariane Ascaride. He's rather like John Sayles without the sociopolitical ambition -- La Ville Est Tranquille, perhaps his darkest film, is comparable to Sayles's City Of Hope.