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Friday, August 1, 2014

LE COUSIN JULES (1972)

This austere beauty, a documentary on farm life in the French countryside, was Dominique Benicheti’s sole directing effort. Rapturously received upon release, it then more or less disappeared before a recent full bore restoration. (Venezuela’s ARAYA/’59 followed a similar path of forget & remembrance.) In meticulously curated WideScreen & EastmanColor, Benicheti painstakingly observes the quiet, isolated rural life of an elderly couple as they run a small farm and his ironworks ‘smithy’ in a manner that seems barely altered from the 1800s. Moving steadily from one task to the next, they pursue largely separate work routines long tempered down to absolute essentials. Technically, the film is immaculate, with a precision that’s both mesmerizing and, in its oblique way, intensely moving. As documentary, the style may look sui generis, yet it pulls from the tradition of Robert Flaherty*, the form’s father, who controversially (at least in hindsight) took a romantic view of his task, using scripted, even story-boarded action, which was then shot in documentary fashion. A search not for reality, but for a semblance of truth.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Included on the DVD, an unusually well done Extra on the film’s restoration that doggedly adheres to the feature film’s style in taking the time to detail the labor intensive process, and even explains the thrift-induced mysteries of the TechniRama WideScreen process.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Flaherty's MAN OF ARAN/'34.

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