Photo of the Week

Paris-Update-EiffelTower

The Eiffel Tower seen from a rooftop in Montparnasse on a smoggy day. © Paris Update

 

Paris Update This Week’s Events

For full details about an event, click on the title to visit the official Web site (in English when available).

Women’s March on Paris
> The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, women will march in cities around the world. Starts at the Parvis des Droits Humains, Trocadero, at 2pm, crosses the Pont d’Iéna and ends at the Mur pour la Paix at 4:30pm.

Behind closed doors
> Book now to visit places in Paris that are normally closed during Paris Face Cachée, including a lab trying to find cures for genetic diseases, located in a glass building with a panoramic roof terrace. Various venues, Paris and suburbs, Jan. 27-29.

Book signing
> Irish author Donal Ryan signs copies of his latest book, The Thing About December. Irish Cultural Center, Paris, Jan. 19.

Late-Night Magritte
> The Magritte exhibition at the Centre Pompidou will stay open until 10pm from Jan. 19 through the last day, Jan. 23.

Drinkathon
> Paris Cocktail Week offers master classes, special restaurant menus with cocktail/food pairings and other festivities. Various venues, Paris, Jan. 21-28.

Young European photographers
> The Festival Circulation(s) features emerging photographers. Centquatre, Paris, Jan. 21-March 5.

Picasso at the airport
> The exhibition "Picasso Plein Soleil" presents works made by the master while living on the Côte d’Azur. Espace Musées, Charles-de-Gaulle Airport 2E, Jan. 21-June 15.

Cheap cinema
> During the Festival Cinéma Télérama, you can see a selection of last year’s best films for only €3.50 each with the purchase of Télérama magazine (Jan. 11 and 18 issues). Various cinemas, Jan. 18-24.

Free subtitled French films
> My French Film Festival offers frees streaming of French movies. Through Feb. 13.

Frank Capra Retrospective
> The great American director in the spotlight. Cinémathèque Française, Paris, through Feb. 27.

Sex, Lies and Corruption
> The Hollywood Décadent festival features such films as Joseph Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, Valley of the Dolls, and Vincente Minnelli’s Nina. Cinémathèque Française, Paris, through Jan. 25.

Chinese New Wave
> Nouvelles Voix du Cinéma Chinois screens films by a new generation of directors beginning around the turn of the 21st-century. Cinémathèque Française, Paris, through Feb. 20.

Winter sales
> Retail sales all over France: through Feb. 21.

Ice-Skating Rinks
> Where to ice skate in Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais.

English plays in French
> Two plays by Harold Pinter, Ashes to Ashes and L’Amant, directed by Mitch Hooper, are onstage at the Essaïon through Jan. 24, 2017.

 

Film - Documentary

 

La Vie Moderne

Focus on
French Farmers

la vie moderne, raymond depardon

Depardon has wonderful material to work, but doesn't manage to engage viewers.

Raymond Depardon is justly celebrated for the range of his work, covering photojournalism, photography, feature films and, with greatest success most recently, documentaries. His new documentary, ironically titled La Vie Moderne (Modern Life), focuses on a number of farms in different areas of France and follows the lives of the farmers, both old and young, who struggle to eke out an existence in a world that seems to be less and less accommodating to old-fashioned ways of farming.

French directors have excelled in recent years in producing charming documentaries on slices of French life: think of Nicolas Philibert’s 2002 portrait of a one-room schoolhouse in rural France, Être et Avoir, or Laurent Cantet’s quasi-documentary Entre les Murs (The Class), winner of this year’s coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, or Depardon’s own beautifully judged (pun intended) 10e Chambre (2004), set in a Paris courtroom. My hopes for La Vie Moderne were therefore understandably high.

On many levels, Depardon has wonderful material to work with, such as the two unmarried octogenarian brothers who resent the fact that their nephew, who works with them, has married a woman from the north, or the son who feels obliged to carry on his parents’ work on the farm even though he hates everything about it.

Visually, as one would expect, given Depardon’s photographic background, the film is exemplary. We gain a vivid insight into both the beauty and the harshness of the land. And the faces of the farmers and their families, as they sit mostly in their kitchens while being interviewed by Depardon, are filmed with extraordinary detail.

Why, then, was I so disappointed with La Vie Moderne?

First of all, unlike Être et Avoir or 10e Chambre, which offered a sense of narrative progression, this documentary darts between different people in different places at different times and has a minimal sense of forward movement. As a result, one feels somewhat detached from Depardon’s human (and animal) subjects.

Secondly, the beauty and depth of the filmed faces, so often entirely static, made me think that a book of photographs would have allowed for greater profundity, especially since the people shown in this documentary are, to be frank, not very interesting. When Depardon asks his often banal questions (how much more effective 10e Chambre was for not having any spoken commentary!), they have very little to say for themselves. Of course, one could argue that their inability to articulate their thoughts is touching, but I would far rather guess at the struggles that lie behind lined faces in a photograph than listen to their inadequate responses.

The failure of Depardon’s interviewing technique is most starkly shown in one moment during an encounter with one of the octogenarian brothers, whose deafness means that Depardon has to repeat every one of his trite questions more loudly. Depardon asks the old man how he feels about the fact that it is raining outside: the camera then explores the farmer’s face as he pauses and seems to reflect sadly on his life. We only realize several moments later that in fact he hasn’t even heard the question.

James Gascoigne

© 2008 Paris Update

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