Back To Normandy

Back To Normandy

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 1976, film-makers René Allio and Nicholas Philibert created an extraordinary film adaptation of Moi, Pierre Rivière, Ayant Egorgé Ma Mère, Ma Soeur Et Mon Frère..., the famous documentation, by Michel Foucault, of an 1835 murder case. Since it was based on real events which took place in a small Normandy village, they persuaded ordinary local people from that village and the surrounding area to become their actors. Now, just over 30 years on, Philibert returns to see what became of his cast and how the experience affected their lives.

If Back To Normandy might have had difficulty living up to the legacy of its subject, it is aided by some extraordinary visual images of its own. Firmly rooted in its rural context, it opens with a shot of a pig being born. The pig's tiny siblings, still womb-wet themselves, scamper around fascinated by what's happening before them, almost as if they're trying to help. It's an image of family which returns us at once to the original subject matter. Pierre Rivière was only a teenager when he took a bill hook and used it to slaughter three members of his family. After months on the run he surrendered himself and wrote an astounding literary narrative in an attempt to explain his actions, not attempting to excuse himself but simply wanting to be understood. He may have been mentally ill - madness certainly ran in his family. In this film, two of the local people who acted in the original poignantly recount their own experiences of dealing with a child with schizophrenia, and their awareness of the limits of what familial love is able to achieve.

Copy picture

To a certain extent, this could be a study of any group of villagers over the course of 30 years, and it would still be fascinating. We learn about their youthful ideas and ambitions, some part of them frozen in time by their appearance onscreen, and we discover the ways that their lives have diverged over the intervening years as they have not only grown older but as the world has changed around them. The day to day farming life still has a great deal in common with Pierre Rivière's time, yet the change in cultural attitudes and expectations even over three decades has been considerable. They have become much more politically and socially aware. The world first glimpsed through the glamour of the film-makers' visit has opened up to them.

There are many fascinating individual stories here, all woven together by the story of the film and, before it, of the murders themselves. To watch is almost to become a part of it oneself, and to become aware of the ongoing story, the still-unfolding consequences of one desperate act.

Reviewed on: 17 Jan 2008
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A film-maker returns to the place where, 30 years ago, he persuaded local farmers to become actors in his dramatisation of the Pierre Rivière murders.
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Read more Back To Normandy reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Nicolas Philibert

Starring: Claude Hébert

Year: 2007

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

Festivals:

London 2007

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