Thursday, August 10, 2006


Languedoc, May 2006
Raymond Depardon is familiar with the mountainous central regions of France and it’s farming societies. His documentaries “Profils Paysans:L’approche” and it’s follow up “Le Quotidian” were filmed in 2000 and 2004, focussing on characters he has built a relationship with over the years. The first part of this two part project “l’approche” is a simple exercise, it documents his approach to farmers and their families and shows us their lives. Many participants are obviously uneasy with the presence of Depardon’s camera and two or three have taken some persuading to undertake such an invasion into their privacy. Depardon handles his filmmaking lightly, the camera rolls as the individuals and families move in and out of the frame of the still camera, Depardon is rarely heard and never seen.
We see the individuals in their kitchens eating lunch, conversing with their families and friends and trading with the livestock breeders, butchers and others who come to buy their goods.
Depardon visits the regions of Lozere, Ardeche and Haute-Loire, these areas are semi mountainous and are harsh especially in winter. In all cases the family homes appear untouched by modern times, you would not be surprised if the film had been made 20 years earlier, the individuals who create a living from agriculture appear socially isolated to an urban observer and this level of isolation and social awkwardness is extreme in comparison to the gregariousness of the rural population in many other parts of France and Europe. It is obvious that Depardon is quietly chronicling a dying culture, their work is less valued by wider society and the money they can make from their livestock is constantly reduced.
Many of the people he visits are elderly and need to continue working long past retirement age, some have never married, very few have sons and daughters and those that do have seen them long since move to cities or educate themselves out of the hardship of agriculture into more lucrative employment. We are certainly not asked to feel sentimental about the life of a farmer but nonetheless it is tragic to see these people in their 70’s and 80’s fighting to continue their way of live in the face of a changing world. Certainly the hardship is exacerbated by the ageing process, many are struggling to physically cope with the hard work necessary to survive. Occasionally we see a spirit and humour in some of the farmers, one can be seen joking with a visiting livestock breeder, he is aware of the correct price for his cattle and leaves his visitor in no doubt what he expects from the deal and negotiates with humour, tenacity and pride.
By no means can you consider this a feelgood film, I left with a sense of defeat. This sense of defeat is evident on the faces of several of the participants in the film. We could be sentimental about the issues the film raises but too much time has passed and too much of the world has changed, the clock cannot be turned back. Those in power should work hard to create sensitive and sustainable improvements to the benefit of those that have been left behind in Lozere, Ardeche and Haute-Loire and many other parts of rural Europe. To inform themselves of this necessity they could start by taking a look at this documentary.


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