Modern Life (La Vie Moderne)
The third part of Magnum photojournalist and filmmaker Raymond Depardon’s trilogy of films about the lives of France’s highland farmers receives a standalone release. We can only hope its predecessors will follow. The Cévennes region in southern France is a region of hilly passes, lonely farms and lonelier farmers. Depardon drops in and out of the lives of aged bachelor brothers Marcel and Raymond Privat, whose old-fashioned shepherding methods and primitive farming techniques lead them into contention with their younger nephew and his ‘outsider’ wife from Calais. Then there’s dairy farmers Germaine and Marcel Challaye, who struggle to maintain their diminishing flock with no help from their numerous children, and chain-smoking solitary farmer Paul Argaud, the very epitome of disillusion and governmental disinheritance. Finally the Jeanroy family offer a bleak picture of those that stay against the odds, with their son Daniel, who would much rather be doing anything else.
From this embittered, entrenched and verbally sparse community, Depardon creates a portrait of hope, guts and great humanism. Led by his photojournalistic skill for communicating socioeconomic truth by concentrating on the smaller details, Depardon’s work is arguably most comparable to the documentary films of legendary Argentinean agit-propist and filmmaker Fernando E Solanos (most notably 2004’s Social Genocide and 2005’s The Dignity of Nobodies) as well as more obviously the work of Nicholas Être et Avoir Philibert.
Filming on 35mm film, Depardon eschews fly on the wall techniques for something sturdier, framed and static. Locking off the camera wherever he can, Depardon intersperses talking (or lack of – idle chit chat is not a local speciality) and head shots with studies of this diminishing breed at work. So concentrated and refined are Depardon’s set-ups in various stables, yards and fields that they bring to mind Caravaggio’s Chiaroscuro paintings with their intimations of space and man’s fragility in the world. There can be no doubt that time will prove Depardon’s trilogy to be the definitive record of these abandoned, soon to be no more peoples from the first world; their homes soon to become another statistic in a property portfolio. A heartbreaking work.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 15-Thu 21 May.