Movie Review

Journal de France – Movie Review


Journal de France – Film Review  by Niall Curran

Raymond Depardon is an old man with piercing blue eyes who travels around France in his camper van enjoying the silence. He likes to stop in quaint hamlets, that he remembers from his youth, to take photos of a disappearing France with his nineteenth century view camera. Asked what he is doing and he answers that “he is in orbit” and “the van is his capsule”.

Easy to dismiss as an endearing eccentric, Depardon is also an award winning film- maker and photographer who forged his career with a direct style of filming which aims to capture the immediacy of an occasion with close-ups of people faces in the hope that they reveal themselves. The documentary cuts back from his esoteric travels around modern France to tell the story of his film-making and its evolution through fifty years of work.

Narrated and co-directed by his long-time collaborator and sound engineer, Claudine Nougaret, the scale and breadth of this documentary and Depardon’s life work is impressive. In his footage of the revolutionary 1960s, his direct style of film-making reminds us of how the era was to be the start of a new epoch that would transform the world and its optimism is seen in the smiles on the people of the Central African Republic as they celebrate independence. It also shows us the steely determination in the faces of the peaceful protestors in Prague in 1969 who stood firm against Soviet tanks and water cannons.

During the 1970s, his work became entangled with French politics when he filmed the inner workings of the French presidential candidate Valery Giscard D’Estaing’s successful election campaign. Their paths crossed again a few years later when Depardon went to Chad and interviewed Francoise Claustre, a French archaeologist, who was kidnapped in 1975 by nomadic rebels from the Tibesti mountains in the North of the country. He ended up spending two years living with the nomads of Northern Chad documenting their existence and producing some beautiful images of life in the desert. On return, he showed the interview to the president but was arrested and the film of it was confiscated.

Inspired by a harrowing visit to an Italian psychiatric hospital in 1979, his work turns towards a style of social justice documentary which he pithily describes as “photograph or they wouldn’t believe it”. This is a precursor to modern reality tv and memorably features him filming in a police station, with only his camera and a microphone attached, observing two policeman bluntly discussing a young man’s suicide as if the camera was not there. In a similar style, he also films in the Paris Public Prosecutions Office and in a courthouse to show the interaction of people with the system. An insightful view into Depardon’s vision and his infinite curiosity, this documentary will appeal most to those interested in modern history or the evolution of documentary making but it has some remarkable footage and will serve as an important compendium of the man’s work.

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