The Return of Martin Guerre (1982)
This film is based on the research of historian Natalie Zemon Davis, published as a book by the same name in 1983 (Harvard University Press). The historical events depicted happened between 1548, when Martin Guerre disappeared from his home village of Artigat, and 1560 when Arnaud du Tilh was executed for fraud and adultery. In the intervening years, du Tilh had lived as Martin Guerre with the latter’s wife and parents. It took two trials to conclusively convict DuTilh of the fraud.
What does this film reveal about the nature of identity and identification in early modern Europe? What was identity based on (how did people know or ascertain who individuals were) then?
Why was du Tilh’s case regared as worthy of two prosecutions, and capital punishment? He was convicted of adultery and fraud, but were those crimes really the reasons for his execution?
The case of Martin Guerre attracted enormous attention at the time, and has fascinated historians, legal scholars, politicians and others ever since. Why? What does it say about the role played by identity in civic life?
Could a Martin Guerre case arise today? What would enable/prevent it? Does this mean that our understandings of identity have changed significantly since the early modern period? If so, why?
See also a translation of one of the original sources, Arrest Memorable by Jean de Coras at: