Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I think I like the idea of BACK TO NORMANDY more than the actual film. The idea is to create a documentary that serves as a reflection on memory and the unchanging elements of life, and to tell that story in a patient and authentic style.

Nicholas Philibert (ETRE ET AVOIR) returns to the village where, thirty years previously, he had worked on a film that recreated the confessions of a young man who murdered his family. The murderer's confession exposed the way in which the justice system and social structures worked in nineteenth century Normandy. The film featured a cast of non-professional actors made up of the local villagers. Thirty years later, those villagers form an articulate group of interviewees. They never expected the film to transform their lives and it didn't. For the most part, they are still farming and living a rather similar life to the original nineteenth century folk they portrayed.

Problem is, if I want to observe rural life (note the five minute opening scene of piglets being born), I can simply go and hang out in my parents' village. If I want to examine the impact of social position and random events on life chances, I can watch Michael Apted's 7Up series. If I want to ruminate on the criminal justice system I can read Dostoyevsky or, indeed, Foucault. All of these options are more interesting and immediate than watching Nicholas Philibert's painfully slow-moving, self-indulgent, directionless collage of village life past and present.

And no, a blatantly sentimental closing scene does not elevate the documentary to the level of soul-searching profundity.

BACK TO NORMANDY was released in France and Belgium in 2007 and in the UK, Japan and Spain earlier in 2008. It is released in Germany in 2008 and is available on DVD.

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