By Owen Gleiberman
Updated November 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

The town is Marseille, and in Robert Guédiguian’s epic ensemble downer, it is less quiet than steeped in calamity. The fish worker (Ariane Ascaride), her face a pout of misery, toils all night in a smelly factory, then returns to a dingy apartment complex to take care of her junkie prostitute daughter (Julie-Marie Parmentier) and the daughter’s squalling infant. The taxi driver (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), who has abandoned his dead-end job on the docks, is so lonely he decorates his living room with porno pinups. He forms a liaison with the fish worker, paying her for backseat quickies, and she then uses the money to buy her daughter’s smack. Three murders and one suicide later, The Town Is Quiet ends, having attempted to connect these no-hope lives, and several others, to the decline of the Marseille seaport, the specter of globalization, and the rise of a new xenophobic right wing. It doesn’t quite wash. Guédiguian has a telling instinct for the buried shame of working-class squalor, but his film is inflated with a doom that feels programmatic rather than earned.