Dir: Nicolas Philibert. Fr. 2006. 113 mins
Any documentary is an act of remembrance. Back To Normandy has a special personal significance for director Nicolas Philibert because it allows him to return to the scene of his earliest filmmaking experiences and also to pay homage to his mentor Rene Allio.

The film displays the curiosity and generosity of spirit that have come to characterise Philibert's work but the subject matter lacks the universal appeal and instant charm that made Etre Et Avoir such a stellar success. Interest in Back To Normandy will be largely confined to cinephiles, suggesting slim specialist returns for any theatrical release with the knock-on effect of boosting interest in the largely forgotten work of Allio, especially the film's subject Moi, Pierre Riviere.

Philibert was hired as an assistant director on Moi, Pierre Riviere in 1975 when he was just 24. The film has a unique flavour because of the location shooting and the decision by Allio to use non-professional local farmers and their families to portray the notorious 19th century murderer and members of his family. Thirty years later, Philibert returns to capture the memories of those who remain and paint a portrait of their lives then and now.

He is typically unobtrusive in his interview technique, capturing individuals in their most comfortable surroundings. He doesn't lead or coax but merely allows them to share their own memories in their own words. We learn of the community's pride in the project and some of the tragedies that have befallen cast members. Philibert also seems intent on honouring Allio's decision to create an honest, accurate portrait of country life. Philibert emphasises the muck and mud of farm life as we are shown the details of cider production and subjected to the slaughter of a pig.

Back To Normandy is a very gentle, smoothly flowing production in which scenes from Moi, Pierre Riviere are allowed to interrupt the narrative. In a strong tradition of European rural dramas from that period {Akenfield (1974), Tree Of Wooden Clogs (1978)}, it appears to have held up well and will convince viewers that it is well worth re-visiting or trying to see for the first time. Production diaries, stills and material from the late Allio's papers provide a detailed background to the production, and Philibert scores a small coup in tracking down the lead actor Claude Hebert who is now a priest working in Haiti.

A self-effacing figure, Philibert never imposes himself on the film, preferring to stress the communal experience of its creation and the very human stories that have emerged from his return journey. He does allow himself to save the most personal reason for his return until a final touching moment.

Production Companies
Les Films D'Ici
Maia Films
ARTE France Cinema

International sales
Les Films du Losange

Serge Lalou
Gilles Sandoz

Katell Djian

Nicolas Philibert