This essay will look for the ways that La Vie est un long fleuve tranquille differentiates between the two families by looking at how the Groseille family is presented and comparing it to the way the Le Quesnoy family is presented. I shall outline various contrasts made between the two families to show how they are represented as opposites. I shall consider the aspects of background, shots and sound in this comparison. I shall then go on to evaluate how the differences change due to Momo going to live with the Le Quesnoy family.
In conclusion I will summarise how the families are presented differently in the film and how this has changed by the end. As part of the comedic effect, the Groseille and the Le Quesnoy families are extremes of the stereotypes of their social backgrounds. To emphasise this, the families are presented as opposites of each other and the characters and their environment reflect this. These opposites are present in the backgrounds of the scenes, the characters, the camera shots and the sound.
In the Groseille household all the scenes take place in the living room that has very busy, orange and yellow wallpaper and all the surfaces have objects crowded onto them. This carries through to the way the family dress, which tends to be in bright colours and busy patterns. Overall the effect is the impression of gaudy and vulgar tastes that also come through into the characters personalities, for example when Madame Groseille and Toc-toc spit and swear at the television.
In great contrast to this is the white and blue of the Le Quesnoy household, which never has clutter around and seems to be hospital-like in its cleanliness. The Le Quesnoy family tend to wear white or very bland colours and speak in a very proper way. In scenes with the Groseille family there are regularly a number of them crowded into one shot, stressing the lack of space in their apartment. The Le Quesnoy family, however, are shot in various rooms. Even when there are a number of them in a shot there is always space around them and they tend to be in rather posed positions.
Most o the shots in the Le Quesnoy house also have windows in the background suggesting even more space, this is emphasised by the deep-focus used in Le Quesnoy scenes. In the Groseille house, however, even with the window in the background you can only see buildings outside. The deep focus shots also contrast with the occasional close-ups on the Groseille, for example when Bernadette comes to see them, giving the impression that the Groseille are larger than life whereas the Le Quesnoy are more perfect than life.
The sound is almost completely diegetic and there is a great difference between that in the Groseille household and that in the Le Quesnoy household. The Le Quesnoy house has silence or occasionally piano practice in the background whereas in the Groseille house there is a radio or television in the background. However, there is usually a lot of noise being made by the characters in the Groseille house and this wall of sound hits the viewer when we cut from the Le Quesnoy house to the Groseille playing “Happy Families” around the table.
The only non-diegetic sound is the circus type music when we see the Groseille returning from the supermarket in a taxi loaded down with shopping and then later when Jean Le Quesnoy goes to pay the Groseille even more money, this perhaps suggests how ridiculous the situations are. From the moment the letters are received by the families, chaos starts to descend on the Le Quesnoy’s, usually ordered, life. In contrast the Groseille family seem to adapt after the initial shock and exploit the situation to their benefit by exhorting money from the Le Quesnoy.
As the film progresses the Le Quesnoy seems to neglect its own stereotype and move towards that of the Groseille. Marielle Le Quesnoy’s reaction is that of physical disgust – vomiting. Not a reaction expected of someone who lives so cleanly, it is more in keeping with the Groseille spitting at the television. It also parallels the fly sound effect in the Groseille house when they find out Momo is not theirs – the idea of disgust is present in both scenes.
Further examples of the Le Quesnoy becoming more like the Groseille follow. For example when all the boys go swimming in the river; they run amok, acting like animals and drinking. The similarity is emphasised by the fact you cannot easily tell which boys are from which family. When Bernadette leaves her little sister before she goes to visit the Groseille, the sister pulls a face and the scene cuts from her to Madame Groseille with the same expression.
Two similar examples of the Le Quesnoy starting to act like the Groseille are when Marielle is seen shouting at Mathieu because he cannot understand his school work and when Jean forgets his usual outlook and rants about the Groseille family. The final example is when Jean cooks the children ravioli and the table is cluttered with pans and mess all over the table – this scene is reminiscent of the Groseille meal scenes. In conclusion the differences between the two families are set up in opposites from the start of the film. The busy Groseille background contrasts with the blue and white of the Le Quesnoy house.
The various room shots and use of deep focus in the le Quesnoy house give a feeling of space in comparison to the characters crowded together in the one room of the Groseille house. The difference in noise level between the two families is very obvious and adds to the sense of complete change when the film cuts between the families. The Le Quesnoy family start to change from the moment they get the letter, they become more like the Groseille in the ways previously described. However, the Groseille do not change and remain true to their stereotype to the end of the film.