Why Marseilles in “Stillwater”
The setting for Matt Damon’s movie, “Stillwater,” is Marseilles, France, where a young American woman is in prison for a crime she claims she did not commit. Matt Damon plays the woman’s father, who is seeking to get his daughter released after five years in prison. There will be no spoilers herein but the setting of Marseilles is an interesting one in light of its history during and after WW II.
“In 1947, Marseille was the main trading port of the French colonial empire and it had a Pro-Soviet mayor, Jean Christofol, who was backed by the labour unions for longshoremen, transportation workers, and dockworkers. In the coming Cold War, both the center-left French government and the US tried to fight Soviet influence in Marseille while occasionally employing illegal means to further their goal: the Guerini gang was employed to disrupt union and electoral gatherings, back strikebreakers and support US-funded anti-Soviet labor unions.
“From the 1950s to the 1960s, the Guerini brother were exempt from prosecution in Marseille. The Guerini brothers trafficked opium derivatives illegally imported from French Indochina using the services of the Messageries Maritimes, a French merchant shipping company.
In other words, the US and Gaullist France used the Corsican mafia to remove communists or Soviet sympathizers from power, and replace them with the Corsican mafia after WW II. And in return for getting rid of the communists, who had been active resistance fighters against the Nazis during WW II, the Corsican mafia was given free reign to peddle their drugs and engage in other criminal activities.
When you see the movie or if you have already seen the movie, you will appreciate how this history colors the actions of Matt Damon, creating a context in which an angry American seeking justice in Marseilles might appear as hypocritical, and even arrogant to the point of blindness about his situation. Americans seem to think that they can move through the world, allegedly seeking justice and freedom, without having to account for their past or present injustices and viciousness. As Gore Vidal use to say, “We live in the United States of Amnesia.” And that seems to be the case.