In praise of Raymond Depardon….
I have become a recent convert to the movie streaming app, Mubi. a website dedicated to showcasing arthouse cinema from across the globe which includes a library of documentaries from which I found this gem.
Raymond Depardon is France’s Don McCullin. The comparison is an easy and obvious one to make. Like McCullin, Depardon travelled the world to photograph political hotspots and conflict zones from the sixties onwards and now, in his twilight years, spending his time photographing the landscape of his home country.
Early on we see Depardon’s cinematic style, he filmed everyday scenes close up. Literally walking through the middle of a crowd or march, allowing the camera to take the lead. If someone looked at him the camera would follow them until they walked out of shot. It was a clever, unapologetic style of reportage which captured the essence of the time and place. Now in his seventies, we follow Depardon as he takes to the road in his white van, alone with an old box camera and tripod patiently waiting for the right light reading or a pavement to vacate of passers by. It seems an enviable life to live; he sets his own agenda, shoots any scene which appeals to him artistically rather than commercially and returns home when he tires.
Depardon’s catalogue of work is legendary, his work in Biafra, Beirut, Vietnam, Chad and Algiers cemented his status as a great documentary maker. Now, finally, the camera is turned on him and we see a man who, like McCullin, documented unimaginable suffering now able to find some sense of solace in the French countryside where remnants of the past still remain in the shop fronts and old bars of forgotten towns and villages. It is a wonderful reflection of the man, his career and the joy and heartbreak an image can evoke.