Raymond Depardon is all ears (and eyes) in Les Habitants
by Fabien Lemercier
- The famous photographer and filmmaker paints a reflective portrait of his country with this masterfully simple documentary, distributed by Wild Bunch
Today sees the theatrical opening of Les Habitants [+see also:
film profile], a new chapter in Raymond Depardon’s career in the world of capturing real life. For this documentary, he criss-crossed France in a caravan-cum-studio and gave the floor to anonymous couples, putting the emphasis on listening, rather than placing the surroundings centre stage. This firm stance allows the director of Délits flagrants (César Award for Best Documentary in 1995), Modern Life [+see also:
film profile] (selected in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2008 and the winner of the Louis Delluc Prize that same year) and Journal de France [+see also:
film profile] (nominated for the César Award for Best Documentary in 2013) to deliver a work in which the mundaneness of day-to-day life and the extraordinary intertwine, resulting in a particular blend that boasts a very high degree of spontaneity and a simplicity that is fairly hard to find in the myriad productions currently seeking to paint a portrait of French people by trying too hard to pigeonhole them or falling into the trap of excessive doom and gloom.
“The idea for the film came to me when I had been taking photographs of France between 2004 and 2010,” explains Raymond Depardon. “I found it immensely enjoyable to listen to conversations in the street, and I told myself that I absolutely had to film these exchanges, but not just any old how. I had to create a device that would give a unified view of the entire country. The solution was to transform a tiny, very modest caravan into a mobile studio, park it up near to places where people would pass by, as close as possible to the people in the street, and film them across all of France. We pulled up alongside people who were already available for half an hour, and got them to talk about topics that inspired, worried or excited them in front of the camera. I filmed them side on while they continued their conversations inside the caravan, away from prying eyes and all the noise, sat face to face on stools on either side of a small table, with a huge window between them looking out onto the street. The aim was above all not to ask them any questions, but rather to reassure them, and then disappear from view behind a partition so that they could be left to chat away at their leisure.
“I chose around 15 towns and cities spread across France. Some of them were medium-sized cities, like Charleville, Bayonne or Nice, and there was one in the Parisian suburbs. We stayed no longer than three days in each place. We shot between five and ten couples during each stop-over: working men and women, people who were taking their exams at school, people getting married or divorced, people who vote, people who told me about various bits and pieces of their lives, love stories... It was free speech – you couldn’t make it up."
Produced by Claudine Nougaret for Palmeraie et Désert, Les Habitants was co-produced by France 2 Cinéma, pre-purchased by Ciné+ and backed by the CNC’s advance on receipts. Interestingly, the music was composed by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. The film is being distributed in France by Wild Bunch, which is also in charge of its international sales.
(Translated from French)