Journal de France

Journal de France
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Director: Claudine Nougaret , Raymond Depardon
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Raymond Depardon
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

Raymond Depardon, the French photographer and documentarian, has never, outside his own country, established a reputation to compare with Americans such as Frederick Wiseman or the Maysles brothers. Indeed, when Modern Life, Depardon's stunning study of French agricultural life, emerged in 2008, more than a few reviewers were surprised to discover the director had been at work for half a century. This hugely inventive, often charming self-portrait goes some significant way towards redressing that balance.

On paper, Journal de France sounds like the year's most elaborate show-reel: clips of the films are interspersed with shots of Depardon on a recent(ish) mission. However, working with his longtime companion and sound engineer Claudine Nougaret, Depardon demonstrates that he has lost none of his feel for montage. Despite the shifts in tone – at one point, we cut from a chic French boulevard to violence in Venezuela – the ambitiously named Journal de France exhibits impressive cohesion.

Francophiles will appreciate the framing sequence: 2004 footage of the director as he travels about France capturing representative images of the various regions on an old-fashioned, cumbersome camera. The sequences are now 10 years old. But so ancient does Depardon's technique seem that they may as well have emerged from the 12th century. There's no promiscuous digital snapping here.

That footage offers some insights into the director’s approach to documentary. Depardon likes to wait, listen and draw the subject gradually towards insight and revelation.


What emerges is a scattershot history of the modern world: mercenaries in Biafra, the Soviet invasion of Prague, the political machinations of Valerie Giscard d'Estaing. But, featuring a super eclectic score from the likes of Gloria Lasse, Alain Bashung and Patti Smith, the film also offers an intimate study of a durable artistic collaboration.

Very touching. Very compelling. Very French.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist