Modern Life

Written and directed by Raymond Depardon
Screening at FACT from 1st May 2009

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Photographer and filmmaker Raymond Depardon’s gentle but deeply moving documentary about the decimation of farming in France - in particular the Cevennes region in the central-southern area of the country - left me feeling melancholic.

Having lived on a farm as a child it led to a lot of memories of that time flashing back into my mind. Notably, as is portrayed in the film, how hard the farm workers toiled, often getting up at 5am and working twelve or so hours each day, in all sorts of weather - clement and inclement - six days a week.

Given these arduous working conditions, plus the poor financial rewards to be derived from labouring on small farms, is it any wonder that the majority of the children of the families depicted in Modern Lives have fled to the city?

The landscape of the Cevennes region is stunning in its beauty, whether in spring, summer, autumn and especially winter, but the exodus of the young folk will, before too long, see the disappearance almost completely of all the small to medium sized farms as well as the people who live and work there.

In one small village only two families now remain. People from urban areas use the rest of the houses as holiday homes.

Filming over a period of twenty years, Depardon used a simple structural approach. He began each new section in a similar way, by filming his approach to each farm from his car. This leads to the viewer feeling an empathy with the natural surroundings and the climate at that time.

Depardon interviews and film fives families - all under imminent threat of losing their livelihoods. The saddest, in the true sense of the word, of the individuals shown was sheep farmer Marcel Privat. Eighty-eight years of age, he knew he was nearing the end of his life, having worked on the mountains since he was a boy. He gazed into the distance, with his watery red eyes, and downcast demeanour, perhaps reflecting on what life had served up for him. He said he was not afraid to die but he looked a very unhappy and lonely man.

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