Back to Normandy (NC)

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The Independent Culture

Nicolas Philibert scored a huge hit with his previous documentary about a French schoolmaster and his pupils, Etre et Avoir. One suspects that his latest will not have anything like the same impact, despite (or maybe because of) its deeply personal subject matter. In 1975, the 24-year-old Philibert worked as an assistant director on Rene Allio's feature I, Pierre Rivière..., about the true story of a mysterious triple murder in a peasant village of the 1830s. Thirty years later he returns to the same Normandy backwater to seek out the original cast, mostly locals.

With great tenderness he talks about their lives then and now, intercutting with scenes from Allio's film. The problem is twofold: the interviewees do not come through sufficiently strongly, and the film they worked on will be known to very few. One begins by wondering what the point of such a documentary might be, and by the end, one feels it to be little more than a glorified home movie.