The Return of Martin Guerre

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The Return of Martin Guerre
Le retour de Martin Guerre.jpg
Directed byDaniel Vigne [fr]
Written byDaniel Vigne
Jean-Claude Carrière
Natalie Zemon Davis
Produced byDaniel Vigne
StarringGérard Depardieu
Nathalie Baye
CinematographyAndre Neau
Edited byDenise de Casabianca
Music byMichel Portal
Distributed byEuropean International
Release date
14 May 1982
Running time
122 min

The Return of Martin Guerre (French: Le Retour de Martin Guerre) is a 1982 French historical drama film directed by Daniel Vigne [fr], and starring Gérard Depardieu. It was based on a case of imposture in 16th century France, involving Martin Guerre.


The film relates the historical case of Martin Guerre, who leaves his young wife in a small French village to go fight in a war, and to travel. Eight or nine years later, Martin (played by Depardieu) returns to resume his life. The man initially is acknowledged and welcomed by the wife, family, and friends because he knows the intimate details of his former life.

As time passes, however, vagabonds identify Martin as Arnaud of the neighbouring village of Tilh,[1] but the villagers dismiss these claims as lies. But when Martin makes a demand for money he's owed by his uncle, the uncle is outraged and attacks Martin. This leads to a trial on his identity, with his life at stake, since if he is not Martin he and Martin's wife Bertrande are adulterers and their children bastards. This trial constitutes most of the film.

Martin argues well, and the villagers are divided on whether the man is in fact Martin, Bertrande siding with him. After several elevations of the proceedings up to a court in the Parlement, the judge, Jean de Coras, prepares to acquit Martin primarily on the strength of the testimony of Bertrande.

At the last minute, another witness appears in court, bearing an even stronger resemblance to the young Martin and casting everything into doubt once more. The impostor confesses that he was a soldier with the real Martin, who said he was never going back to his village, upon which the impostor decided to take his place. Even Bertrande changes her mind and says the new witness is Martin. Arnaud is sentenced to death.

Some time later, De Coras visits the village to tell Bertrande that she has been acquitted and is innocent of conspiracy with Arnaud. But he has deduced that she recognized the impostor from the very beginning and asks her why she claimed he was Martin. She says that he was a better husband and man, and they had a good life together. De Coras asks her then why she changed her mind at the last minute. She says she saw in Arnaud's eyes that the case had become hopeless and that he wanted her to feign ignorance so as to live for herself and her children.

Arnaud is led to the gallows, repenting all the while. A voiceover closes the historical framework by mentioning that de Coras was executed some years later for his Protestant beliefs.


The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film by the U.S. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.[2]


In 1983, a book of the same name was published by Natalie Zemon Davis, an American historian of early modern France and professor at Princeton University. She had served as a consultant and helped write the screenplay for the film.

Remake and musical[edit]

Sommersby is a 1993 Hollywood remake of the film in English, transposed to the American Civil War and starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.

A West End (London) musical produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Martin Guerre, was loosely based on the film with additional material from historical accounts. Again, the historical setting is transposed, in this case to the period of religious turmoil between the Huguenots and the Catholics in sixteenth century France.

The first feature film from East Timor, A Guerra Da Beatriz ("Beatriz's War") was released in 2013. It is a re-telling of the story of Martin Guerre, but set in the 1980s, during the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste. It stars Irim Tolentino, who co-wrote the script with the director, Bety Reis.[3]

Cast and roles[edit]


Notes and links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ While the modern spelling of the village name is Thil in French, it is Tilh in local langue d'oc. This was evidently the spelling used at the time of the story, as witnessed by the spelling of Arnaud du Tilh. This is also the spelling used by Natalie Zemon Davis in her book on Martin Guerre.
  2. ^ "1983 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Beatriz's War in Australian Cinemas : A Guerra da Beatriz".


External links[edit]