AlterEgo Films : société de production et de distribution

Madame Jean

A film by Sophie Bruneau and Marc-Antoine Roudil

An old roadside farm in south Cantal. Madame Jean is seated at the table. She receives a visit from the writer Marie-Hélène Lafon. Both are farmer's daughters and share a common history.

2011 / 71' / HD / color / stéréo / Broadcast license 129 417

Photography : Benoît Dervaux
Sound : Marc-Antoine Roudil
Editing : Philippe Boucq
Sound editing : Renaud Guillaumin
Mixing : Amélie Canini

Executive producers Belgium : Sophie Bruneau et Marc-Antoine Roudil
Executive producer : France Pascal Verroust

An alter ego films and ADR Productions production with the support of Centre du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel de la communauté française de Belgique and the Walloon Cable distributors, Région Auvergne and Centre National du Cinéma et de l'image animée.

First shown in France : Wednesday 30 of march 2011 18h15 (Cinéma 1) Cinéma du réel Paris
Distributor and sales in Belgium : alter ego films
Distributeur in France : ADR Distributions
DVD : Trilogy Auvergne – June 2013 (Montparnasse Editions)

Two women from different generations are talking around a table in an old farm in the Cantal, filmed by a hand-held camera that seems to breathe in time with them. In the room, the shifting light and car noises remind us of an off-camera farming world in perpetual change. Marie-Hélène Lafon is visiting Madame Jean and asking her about her past.

They share a farming childhood, a language tinged with regional expressions, recipes from Madame Jean's notebook, which her visitor has already tasted here. As a writer who recreates in her novels the old woman's turn-of-century world of childhood, might this visitor have come to rekindle her memories ?

When Madame Jean mentions "Jacques the Box", the blind hawker, or her great-uncles of "class 14", all killed in the war, she includes in a touching "we" ancestors that she knows only by hearsay. As the apples are peeled and, in the narration, as the acreage of the farm belonging to Madame Jean's parents increases through the purchases of neighbouring plots, the relationship between Marie-Hélène and Madame Jean's mother creates a slight blur.

Charlotte Garson, Cinéma du réel Catalog 2011

The films that have already started

One could never say enough about the beauty of these films that had already started before our arrival. We are too late for the common presentation and the usual introductory words. We will jump on the bandwagon, in the middle of a gesture or a sentence. "Shall I give you a bit more coffee?" says Marie-Hélène Lafon to Madame Jean before continuing the conversation that they started a while ago.

It is up to us to measure the distance covered before we started watching and to compensate for it with our own experience. We all know the ritual that takes shape in front of our eyes: an old woman is questioned by a younger one and remembers. True-life accounts memories of the world, transmission rituals. The film has already started, yet it welcomes us.

It doesn't try to escape, to the contrary. It doesn't run, it doesn't even walk like the previous film from the same filmmakers "Terre d'usage". It is a film that sits, a film that settles. Like people used to do in the old days in the countryside when they were sitting together while collecting bits of stories told by each other. But what were they guardians of in fact?

They were simply looking after time, and after the community of men that lasts and grows through the transmission of knowledge and savoir-faire. If the film seems to have started before, it is because the story between Madame Jean and Marie-Hélène Lafon had started a long time ago. As did the story between Madame Jean, Sophie Bruneau and Marc-Antoine Roudil.

For a long time, all of them had been considering the old lady's words like a precious gift. One of them is using it in one of her books, the others are recording it for a film. Or more precisely, they are showing how these words circulate between the two women during a few days shooting in the main room of a Cantal farm. One would expect a film where the attentive immobility of the camera would discretely capture the dialogue that takes shape. To the contrary, and that is one of the great forces of the film, the two filmmakers had decided to immerse a moving camera into the quietness of this meeting behind closed doors.

They have introduced a volatile camera between the tenuous words of the two women. The image seems to breath with them and shakes with every exchanged word. The camera is always on alert. It loads itself up with an extreme emotional tension and its shaking reveals the extraordinary importance of what is played out in the course of the conversation and between the words, in thoughtful gestures and shared smiles.

The image is slightly moving because something indefinable is floating around: a certain tenderness, a mystery, some desire to learn about a foreign world, the desire to name it exactly and to describe it while catching the old lady's words on-the-fly. If the film seems to have started a while ago, it is because Madame Jean's stories go back to a remote past and sound like legends: a blind pedlar, deadly wars, and all over, the ancestral fear of the Gevaudan's Beast.

The film perpetuates an oral tradition while showing how stories leave their marks on people who know how to listen to them. Madame Jean tells what her grandfather and the village pedlar used to tell. Marie-Hélène Lafon remembers what Madame Jean's mother used to tell her. These stories fragmentarily fit together and go back in time. No saga here, only a memory that reveals itself bit by bit and sometimes stops for a detail, the precision of a word or a date. No complete or closed stories; always incomplete stories that can free the imagination better than any others. Another invisible film is then taking shape.

A world that no longer exists is outlined. Behind the windows where cars follow one another, one can suddenly see the cattle walking out of the cowshed and the hens pecking in the road. Madame Jean's words are a fertile land that recalls images from the past and helps to measure the transformation of a territory and the mutations of the rural world.

Sophie Bruneau and Marc Antoine Roudil say that they wanted to make a film "with" someone and not "about" someone. A shared film that speaks of sharing. Their work is scattered with characters which spreads words and views while breaking off the face-to-face between the filmmakers and the characters. In "Terre d'usage", Pierre Juquin is talking but he can also make the people speak, the inhabitants of the territory he lives in and travels up and down.

The solicitor of "A country solicitor" is the verbal link between buyers and sellers. And Marie-Hélène Lafon reawakens Madame Jean's forgotten stories. This recurrent approach accounts for a desire to not give away a unique word but to collide different thoughts and languages. In "Terre d'usage", Pierre Juquin is always filmed outside, while walking, in his movement towards others. In "A country solicitor", we witness professional consultations. And "Madame Jean" shows an evocation of the past in an intimate place. Sophie Bruneau and Marc-Antoine Roudil's films are films about words, and in Madame Jean more than the others. Here the words seem endless, constantly revived by the writer's questions. The stories are built in fits and starts, giving the impression that the words will never stop unfolding. How to stop the film then? Impossible, it will not stop. It started without us and will continue without us.

We will leave it as we entered it, in the course of a story, on a word pronounced by the writer that seems to contain the goal of the whole film. Like the stories told by her mother, Madame Jean's stories seem to come alive at the time of the film, and even after. Suddenly we are outside, in front of the old farm now bordered by a road. And even though cars are passing by, we can still hear Madame Jean's gentle voice. And the images that her stories have revived within ourselves will live with us for a long time.

Amanda Robles