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Cannes Film Festival, 2008: "La Vie moderne" (Depardon, France)

Produced as part of what I believe is a series of films for television on rural French life, Raymond Depardon's La Vie moderne (Modern Life) seems very fresh to these American eyes—a film that takes an avid and very empathetic interest in provincial farmers, their states of live and that of their profession. It is also documentary as portraiture, that of people and landscape, a record of a short time—already changed by the end of the film—in the death of a certain kind of rural French farmer. Depardon composes in very wide images to give the work and the land scope and breadth in light of the lonely and diminishing local population, yet also to hold down his interviewees for friendly but somehow constrictive conversations.  His intent and attitude is that of a empathetic comrade, but the way he shoots his friends and acquaintances admits to a minor tremor of uncomfortableness between filmmaker and subject on camera, despite their obvious rapport in person.  This may be the root of the title, as, try as it might, perhaps the cinema is not the best way to understand a way of life and a way of work that existed long before the modernity of moving images.  A work of simple, but very hard to achieve, compassion, let us hope the participants are still around in the future for Depardon to further share their lives with us.

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