In Normandy in 1835, Pierre Rivière savagely murdered most of his family and then, in the course of the investigation and trial, wrote an unusual autobiographical account of the murders, carefully explaining his motivations for the heinous crime. More than a century later, philosopher-historian Michel Foucault discovered the document and was so struck by its eloquence, lucidity and ratiocination that he published the text in a 1973 volume, which became an important landmark in French letters and Foucault's career. Inspired by Foucault's book, René Allio directed the celebrated film I, Pierre Rivière three years later, focusing not only on the murders and their aftermath, but also on the everyday life of French
farmers during the 19th century. Working as assistant director was the then twenty-four year old Nicolas Philibert, who was tasked with scouting locations and finding a cast among the locals. The profound influence of Philibert's unique experience upon his subsequent career is wonderfully captured in his greatly anticipated new documentary, which centers on Allio's film and marks Philibert's Return to Normandy.
Directed by René Allio.
With Joseph Leportier, Jacqueline Millière, Claude Hébert
France 1976, video, color, 130 min.
French with English subtitles
I, Pierre Rivière, Having Butchered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother… carefully assembles multiple perspectives on the infamous countryside murders that it re-enacts, an unusual approach that illustrates the ways that narrative produces truth. Allio shot the film entirely on location, using farmers from the Normandy region where the violence occurred. After far more than simply a grisly retelling of the grim events, Allio's film reflects on the deeper patterns of rural life imprinted on the land and its customs – the passing of the seasons, the raising of livestock, the harvesting of the crops – revealing the amazing continuity of these rhythms and traditions that stretch back from the 1830s to the present day. A haunting and beautiful pastoral epic that anticipates Ermanno Olmi's Tree of the Wooden Clogs (1978), I, Pierre Rivière… also offers a profound mediation on history la longue durée, and the inherent instability of fiction and non-fiction within the cinema.
Directed by Nicolas Philibert.
France 2007, 35mm, color, 113 min.
French with English subtitles
Back to Normandy is a film about the passage and depths of time – both the oceanic fathoms of history, and the shallow tidal pools of an individual's life. On one level, Philibert's film offers a subtle form of autobiography, with the now-prominent director returning to the original scene where he took his first steps as a filmmaker. At the same time, Philibert also delves into the diaries of his mentor, director René Allio, outlining Allio's unusual career as a painter-turned-director and chronicling the difficult production of his most ambitious film. As Philibert gradually uncovers the inner life and motivations of Pierre Rivière's crimes, we also learn of the mysterious disappearance of the melancholy young villager who played him, Claude Hébert. The story of Hébert's strange fate provides a haunting parallel to the original events from nearly two centuries ago.