Depardon chooses to set up the camera on a tripod and to shoot the scenes in long takes, without cuts, allowing the characters to step in and out of the frame.
The immobility of the camera and the voiceover of the filmmaker explaining where we are, who we are going to meet, how he got to know these people, etc., (sometimes the voiceover seems a little superfluous) gives a certain voyeuristic slant to the film. It somehow leaves the impression that we, the spectators, are looking through a keyhole and watching these people live. But without the uncomfortable feeling of spying on them, because they are aware of being filmed.
A glance in the direction of the camera or a comment addressed to the man behind it creates a dialogue between the filmed and the filmmaker. It’s a rather sympathetic way to film, leaving it more or less up to the protagonists to stay in the frame or to exit it. But also a laborious method, because most of the time nothing much happens; the daily rituals and small talk fill most of an ordinary life, dramas are rare and one must wait for them. As Depardon does. And there are moments of drama in the often ascetic existence of these farmers who know about poverty and solitude.
One of the fine, touching moments happens in the hospital where 85-year-old Louis Brès is recovering from an eye operation. A younger woman, Monique, who has been looking after him and helping him at the farm comes to visit. She sits in front of him, legs crossed, and the old man, leaning forward to talk to her and see her, timidly pats her knee from time to time in affection. We never see Louis again, he dies in hospital. Depardon films his funeral. And he films a young couple and their new-born baby on their farm. Life goes on, joy and sorrow co-exist.
Profils paysans: l’approche, which is the first segment of a mini-series of three documentaries, approaches rural life and the people who live it with respect for the pace and specificity of this world. And if one is willing to slow down a little and watch ninety minutes of storytelling, there is pleasure to be found.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).