Dr. Mavial, an obstetrician, and his nurse Josette have been having an affair for 14 years. The doctor has been promising to leave his wife, but continues to stay by her side because she is sick. Also residing in this small French city are two radically different families, the Le Quesnoys and Groseilles.
The Le Quesnoy family is a well-to-do, extremely content clan who lead a perfectly bourgeois and charmed life. The father, Jean, formally announces dinner time, play time and bed time. The mother, Marielle, spends most of her day smiling, as she oversees their beautiful, well-educated and well-behaved children.
On the other side of the tracks live Mr. and Mrs. Groseille and their thieving, whoring brood. One son just got out of prison, the daughter flirts with anyone or anything that moves and Momo, the brains of the outfit, helps their Arab neighbor blow up his car for insurance purposes. The rotten lot takes after Dad, who spends all day in their tiny apartment playing cards, smoking and drinking.
How do the paths of these two diverse families cross? Well, after Dr. Mavial’s wife dies, Josette expects him to finally marry her. When he instead says, “I’ll never be able to replace her,” Josette decides enough is enough.
Devastated, Josette packs up to leave and plots revenge. Writing the pompous doctor a letter, she reveals how 12 years ago, in a jealous fit of anger over his cold behavior toward her one Christmas Eve, she switched the identity cards on two babies the obstetrician had just delivered.
The two families were, of course, the Le Quesnoys and Groseilles. Marielle is quite upset to discover that her daughter, Bernadette, is really a low-life, and that Momo, their real son, is a 12-year-old petty thief who drinks and smokes. The only thing to do is to “adopt” Momo (which they do for 20,000 francs) and expose him to proper manners, education and values. Bernadette is spared the truth.
Momo, though, quickly returns to his old ways. He calls his loving, beautiful mother a bitch and starts stealing the family silver. He tells Bernadette the truth, which causes her to hate Jean and Marielle. Then, Momo hooks up his brother with his slut ex-sister. Before long, the whole Le Quesnoy household has been corrupted, including the unmarried maid who is now pregnant, but claims she has never had sex.
With the kids getting drunk and sniffing glue in the garage and Mrs. Le Quesnoy experiencing a nervous breakdown, the rollicking, dishonest Groseilles turn out to be much better company, and that is the sly, social comment director Chatiliez thinks he is making. In actuality, however, nothing could be further from the truth, because bad habits and bad lifestyles always work ruin. Sin is sin, and not just a matter of degree.
However, almost schizophrenically, one of the Le Quesnoy children in a moment of seriousness says, “Life is not like a long quiet river… we need to suffer like Christ.” Huh?
Rather than sort out which direction LIFE IS A LONG, QUIET RIVER is trying to take, turn instead to Psalm 46:4 “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Now the city of God is Jerusalem, and though Jerusalem has no river, yet she has a “river.” That is, the “river” serves as an apt metaphor for the continual outpouring of the sustaining and refreshing blessings of God, which make the city of God like the Garden of Eden.
Profanity and obscenity; frontal female nudity; adultery and implied promiscuity; revenge, theft and deception; and, children smoking, drinking and sniffing glue