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Documentary Review - Journal de France

Profile of French photographer, Raymond Depardon.

Directed by: Raymond Depardon, Claudine Nougaret
Featuring: Raymond Depardon, Claudine Nougaret


Journal de France is a film about filming and about the power of film to capture history in real time. It begins modestly, following its core subject, the filmmaker and photojournalist Raymond Depardon, as he journeys around present day rural France, taking photographic studies of people with a large format view camera.
The writer/director team behind this movie are Depardon and his wife, the film archivist Claudine Nougaret. She provides the narration and the second strand of the movie, which moves in parallel with the leisurely pace of Depradon’s cross-country peregrinations. This second strand is a rich collection of archive footage culled from Depardon’s long career as a photojournalist and documentary film maker. The credits roll over black and white footage of Parisian youngsters out on the town in the sixties: girls with beehive haircuts and modest woolen coats, young men in suit and tie. In voiceover, Christine Nougaret tells us how Raymond got his start by just going out and filming. This footage follows his whims, stopping to stare at a crowd staring at something on the river, before diverting to follow the shapely form of a pretty girl who catches the cameraman’s eye. Abruptly, we find ourselves immersed in images from his first news story, and a sharper contrast with what comes before you’d be hard pressed to find: the place is Venezuela 1963, and it’s Civil War on the streets of Caracas, vivid with alarm and the sound of gunfire. The style of the film follows this pattern of contrast, between the mundane and the dramatic, the personal and the historic, and does so artfully. Depardon’s prosaic, practical journeying around France in his camper van may leave some viewers impatient and cold towards the film but as his career unfolds before us over the course of the film, these slices of his elder years become charged with significance.
There are moments of vivid human drama: French mercenaries sipping beaujoulais as they discuss the money they will earn training rebels in the Biafran Civil War – twenty four hours later, one of them is dead, being hoisted through the forest in a state of undress while one of his compatriots waves a pistol and angrily demands “where is his passport, where are his papers?”.  We see the Prague Uprising, set to choice music. There is a memorable, even startling, cameo by Nelson Mandela which had an eerie resonance, given his recent demise. There are many memorable moments such as these, including Depardon’s involvement in the now-little-remembered Claustre Affair.
Journal de France does a great job of capturing the texture of rural France as it is today. The stillnesses, the small run-down towns, old men who sit year in and year out, still there to be re-photographed 20 years after Depardon’s first visit (“this man has been here since 1844” jokes one of the old men).
Eventually, the chronology catches up with its co-director and we are introduced to the young Claudine Nougaret, in 1986. Depardon is evidently instantly smitten and films her constantly and lovingly, under the pre-text, as he told her, of ‘test footage’, which probably wouldn’t cut it with a judge in this day and age, even in artsy Paris. That said, “We’re inseparable now” she says in voiceover.
The great strength of this film is the cumulative effect of the unique archive footage, and the ordinariness of the present-day sections, which give the audience space to process what they have seen. It is a journey, by those who live by the camera, by those who have lived by the camera. It’s a film for film buffs, readers of history and non-fiction and budding documentarians, and it’s a window on a slightly different, more reverent attitude toward film-making. This is a movie that ends in silence, literally letting the images speak for themselves.
9/10


Rúairí Conneely

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