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And the Party Goes On | Review

Rosa, heart of old Marseille, balances family, work, and activism. As retirement nears and doubts rise, she finds it's never too late for dreams.

And the Party Goes On
France, 2023, 106 minutes
Original Title: Et la fête continue!
Directed by: Robert Guédiguian

Rosa is the heart and soul of her working-class neighborhood in old Marseille. She divides her energy among her large family, her nursing job, and her political activism on behalf of the disadvantaged. But as retirement approaches, her illusions begin to falter. Supported by the vitality of her loved ones and her encounter with Henri, she realizes that it’s never too late to pursue her dreams…

There’s something extraordinary, and indeed comforting, in the fact that Robert Guédiguian, his cinema, his Marseille, and his actors—Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan, always them—are still there. Not out of sentimentality or—worse—nostalgia, but because they are witnesses to an extremely lucid perspective on the contemporary world and today’s society, as determined and persistent as ever. Guédiguian remains one of the few European filmmakers capable of creating cinema with strong personal traits—which could even be called private if not for the fact that “private” is a concept far removed from his poetic and mindset—but at the same time universally resonant. This is because he has managed to construct a narrative style where repetition, seen as a variation on a theme, finds its own meaning.

Watching Marseille, with its contradictions, wounds, colors, and light through the years, means for the director to observe something that contains a larger story—the story of France, Europe, the world—through a lens close to his own personal history, that of a man, a filmmaker, a communist intellectual who, like few others, manages to capture in images the present surrounding him.

And the Party Goes On follows one of Guédiguian’s rare departures from the Marseille topography: Twist à Bamako (2021), set and filmed in Mali, focused on the country’s tough and complex path to independence from the 1960s to today. It was thus expected that his next film would return home (out of Guédiguian’s 23 films, only 4 are not set in the “Phocaean city”). And it picks up where it left off with Gloria Mundi (2019), where the gaze on the people and society of Marseille was colored with a very deep and disillusioned darkness (and disdain) seen very few other times.

With And the Party Goes On Guédiguian does not dwell in that same pessimism, but still moves from an extremely tragic incident. A real event that occurred in Marseille a few years ago, which caused quite a stir in France: the collapse of the buildings on rue d’Aubagne. On November 5, 2018, at 9 in the morning, two adjoining apartment buildings in the Noailles district in the center of the city suddenly collapsed on themselves, killing eight people, including two Italian citizens. The film opens with images—first reconstructed and then archival footage from the media—of the collapse, followed by images of the neighborhood’s residents protesting against decay, lack of maintenance, and the city administration’s failed urban policy.

The film then transitions from reality to fiction, and we discover among the shocked residents of the district is also Alice, who teaches music at the civic center in Noailles and is engaged to Sarkis, of Armenian origin and owner of a nearby bar. Sarkis’s mother, Rosa (Ariane Ascaride), a widow since the age of 26 who works as a nurse, and his brother Tonio (Gérard Meylan), proudly named after Gramsci and still holding an unwavering faith in communist doctrine, also live in Noailles. Henri (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), Alice’s father, is not from Marseille and, having recently arrived in the city trying to mend his strained relationship with his daughter, is captivated by the warm and family-like atmosphere he finds, so much so that he decides to stay. But he stays primarily because he begins a passionate love affair with Rosa, who in the meantime is engaged in relentless political activity to try to unite the city’s fragmented and divided leftist parties, with the goal of taking the reins of city government. This includes supporting the initiative of Alice, Sarkis, and other residents of Noailles who want to name the central square of the neighborhood after the victims of the collapse on November 5, 2018.

In the usual dense tangle of stories, faces, situations, and characters—which make, as in every one of his films, the eclecticism and extraordinary vitality of Marseille and its people—Guédiguian chooses primarily one character to encapsulate the sense of it all: Rosa. Probably one of the most autobiographical characters in all his cinema, who seems almost to speak with the director’s voice, to whom he openly entrusts all his doubts and questions. Guédiguian, who is about to turn seventy and seems more inclined than usual to reflect on existential issues, through Rosa indulges in memories. In the woman’s past, which resurfaces through dreams, there is an Armenian husband gone for too many years and belonging to a past life, a communist militant father who transmitted to her and her brother the strength of political commitment, and there’s the fascination for art and the old flame of acting. But at the same time, there’s a deep reflection on her own role in the world and in society: Rosa, finding love at sixty, feels a kind of inadequacy towards her feelings and for the first time questions her political activism. Not because her faith in old ideals wavers or her passion for Henri isn’t sincere, but because she begins to understand and perceive the existence of a negotiation between herself and others, between heart and mind, and between public and private, with which she must now contend.

Thus, by bringing everything back to the authorial experience of Guédiguian, it seems almost as if the director—whose artistic, professional, and also intimate and spiritual partnership with his wife Ariane Ascaride is now indissoluble—wants to mark a distance with great clarity. Not from the present or the need for commitment and activism, but rather from a reality that in some respects no longer belongs to him and which, without ceasing to want to understand and interpret it, he prefers to leave to future generations. Because, as the title evokes, the celebration always continues, regardless of whether we participate in it or not. So the humanist and inclusive Marseille that the director portrays no longer resembles the desperate and chaotic one shown in Gloria Mundi. Because Guédiguian prefers to view the world not as it is, but as he wishes it would be, perhaps remembering what it once was or hoping what it might become. And while not forgetting the great and small tragedies that happen every day—like the collapse of the buildings on rue d’Aubagne as a reminder—his faith in a certain way of thinking and looking at the world and the people who inhabit it remains unshakable. After all, he thinks exactly like Tonio when speaking with Henri during one of their first meetings, describing his city as a kind of fantastic and idyllic place, he exclaims: “So, you like Marseille? It never rains here. Everyone is left-wing. No bourgeois, fascists, or racists… Only good people!”.

Lorenzo Rossi

Cineforum, April 10, 2024

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