Modern Life

This poised and poignant latest from humanist photojournalist and filmmaker Raymond Depardon is the (possible) final chapter in a trio of documentaries about the demise of tradition in the French countryside. Not the sexiest of topics, for sure, but one which draws fascinating and subtle insight from individuals whose cherished way of life is slipping away. Suggesting parallels with the work of fellow countryman Nicholas Philibert, as well as the let-it-roll filming styles of the Maysles brothers and Frederick Wiseman, the set-up is simple, but wonderfully effective. The director, who also narrates, traverses the twisted hillside passes of the Cévennes region of southern France, reconvenes with various farmworkers he’s ‘earned the trust of’ over the years and casually chats to them about their lives.

Depardon doesn’t interrogate those he meets. There’s no sense that he’s looking for answers, that he’s attempting to support a thesis or trying to manufacture a drama. He simply and sensitively asks questions. Sometimes he gets an answer; sometimes, just silence. It’s a high-risk approach that, in lesser hands, might have made for uncomfortable viewing, but Depardon’s palpable sense of respect for his subjects lends the film a geniality that would otherwise have been hard to fabricate.

Depardon is also careful not to romanticise. He focuses as much on the suffering and loneliness this often-isolated occupation can foster as he does on its many, defiantly old-fashioned, joys. The economic, lightly deadpan shooting technique employs picturesque framing of the farmers and their brood and shows that Depardon is out for little more than to capture these folks in their natural state. Adding to the inviting tone is the rich, honeyed timbre of Depardon’s voice, which comes across a little like a Francophone David Attenborough, at once enthusiastic, authoritative, sincere and compassionate. Later on, Depardon fixes his camera on the weatherbeaten face of 88-year-old farmer Marcel. He tells the camera that he has no fear of death, but Depardon knows that his archaic routines and obsolete local dialect (Occitan) will likely die with him. He knows, too, that with cinema, this primitive ‘lost’ culture can be preserved for others to study and enjoy.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday April 3 2009
Duration: 87 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Raymond Depardon

Average User Rating

5 / 5

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Emma

Beautiful, unhurried, unsentimental glimpse at a way of life which is almost inconceivable to modern urbanites. Filmed with care and honesty.

Ben

It's also showing at the Everyman Belsize Park and Apollo Pic Circus. I love this film.