In “The Return of Martin Guerre,” we have an example of well-done storytelling both in print and cinema. The story is of French family and community life in the late middle ages. Martin Guerre marries the beautiful Bertrande but he is initially impotent and thus cannot consummate the marriage or have a child in the time frame the society is used to. Such a situation is looked upon with scorn and puzzlement by Bertrand’s and Martin’s families as well as the town folk. They do though and eventually have a son. Martin decides one day to split the scene completely and is not heard from for many years. An imposter comes to the town a dozen years after Martin leaves and claims to be the long lost Martin. Although he is eventually exposed as a liar and hung, the imposter manages to convince many town people and even Bertrand that he is who he says he is.
Both the book and movie manage to create a vivid portrayal of life during the late middle ages. The concepts of inheritance, marriage, and the expectation of child bearing are all duly portrayed in both the movie and the book. The movie, in my opinion, was able to convey the smooth nature of the imposter better than the book. The actor who played the imposter was animated and convincing. It was quite entertaining to see his facial expressions and body language as he successfully weaseled his way into Bertrand’s family and her bed. The scenery in the movie was colorful and warm. The actors (especially the uncle and the imposter) were very good. The book, in my opinion, was more informative about the concept of the dowry brought to the marriage by the woman. One thing I was waiting for was not really addressed by either the book or movie. That would be Martin’s excuse for the abandonment of his family. When he (the imposter) came to town after a dozen years of Martin being gone, people thinking he was Martin wanted to know where he went and what he did. But “why did you do it” was not a question on many people’s minds. That struck me as odd. I was even more surprised when the real Martin returned and blamed the whole tragic state of affairs on Bertrand. The horrible act of a man leaving his family and being out of communication for a dozen years needed to be explored.
A movie can be both good and not so good for portraying history. Scenery, costumes, and skilled acting give stories visuals and a personality that seems a bit dryer in print. Having said that, a work of film is not able to cover details and descriptions of people and events that can be flushed out with hundreds of pages of writing. In “The Return of Martin Guerre,” both mediums deal competently with the story.