A true story
The action takes place in the 16th century, in a village
located at the foot of the Pyrenees, in Southern France. Bertrande de
Rols and Martin, both still adolescents, are married by the village
priest because their parents decided that such a marriage was good
business for both families. The young couple is unhappy and Martin
When he returns from having served in the army, eight years later, he
is a transformed man. Shy and weak previously, he is now strong and
self-assured. Bertrande takes him in and now they form a happy loving
Vagabonds who pass through the village state that this man, that they
met in the army, is not Martin but Pancette. Martin is brought in front
of one court after the other and always manages to prove that he is
The judge of the court of Toulouse who presided over the case wrote
down the story in Latin. It has been translated into many languages,
re-written many times and made into movies several times. An American
movie version of the story is entitled "Sommersby". It takes
place in the United States during the Civil War and stars Richard Gere
and Judy Foster.
What makes this movie outstanding is the meticulous reconstruction of
life in a remote village in the Middle Ages. We see more superstition
than religion or justice, lack of amenities, lack of education, and life
totally dependent on the rhythms and whims of nature.
The film is beautifully photographed, with many scenes looking like
paintings by 17th century French and Flemish painters. The
two main actors are impressive, Nathalie Baye by her gentle sensitivity,
Gérard Depardieu by his powerful strength of character.
The ending of the film suggests the new attitudes and ideas sweeping
across Europe in the 16th century, the Renaissance (a
cultural revolution) and the Reformation (a religious revolution). The
judge who authored the transcription of the trial was a liberal whose
opinions (and judgment) reflect those new attitudes.