PICK Back to Normandy: Burrowing Into Old French Cinema

Determined to cast only locals in his 1976 adaptation of Michel Foucault’s I, Pierre Rivière (also playing NWFF this week), director René Allio combed Normandy for a youngster to convey the true confessions of Pierre, a peasant who killed his mother, brother, and sister 140 years earlier. Allio was taken with the idea of returning the local legend to its people, and filled his film with farmers and factory workers; 30 years later, director Nicolas Philibert returned to ask the participants just how that worked out for them. Philibert (director of the exquisitely microcosmic To Be and To Have) was Allio’s first assistant director, and narrates Back to Normandy with obvious affection for his mentor (who died in 1995), interspersing footage from the dryly intoned original with fond and often philosophical musings from its cast. A middle-aged caretaker seems to surprise both her husband and herself while reflecting on how critically the experience of acting as a teenager shaped her future. Philibert eventually gathers key cast members—including le petit murderer himself, who went on to become a missionary in Haiti—for a bracingly unsentimental reunion. These are solid country folk, we are reminded during a gruesome pig-slaughtering sequence; while they obligingly dip into memories of that summer the cinematic circus came to town, it is rather awesomely evident that when the cameras left, life—and death—simply went on.