For once, acclaimed French photojournalist and film director Raymond Depardon turns his camera on himself: with Claudine Nougaret, his trusty sound engineer, producer and life partner of 30 years, by his side, Mr. Depardon documents his method of taking pictures but also his history as a filmmaker in this ingeniously devised look at the past 50 years of French and world history. In many ways, Journal de France is taking stock of a career where the personal and the political, the public and the private, moving and static pictures, go hand in hand.

     The film is effectively constructed out of two intertwining strands, like DNA. On one side, Mr. Depardon is filmed criss-crossing France in his van, stopping to take photographs (or, rather, recreating the taking of some of his photographs of French urban landscapes), documenting his method of shooting only one frame of film for exactly one second only with an large-format plate camera - a recreation that pushes Journal de France into the current documentaire de création concepts but demanded by the lonely nature of the photographer's work. On the other, Ms. Nougaret (who is only seen in archival footage) narrates a selection of previously unseen out-takes from Mr. Depardon's many reportage and feature projects rendered chronologically, opening up the photographer's archives to show tantalizingly brutal pictures of forgotten wars like Biafra, or the observational fallout from the Russian invasion of Prague.

     The end result slowly melds into a complete whole, looking at Mr. Depardon's career as indissociable from his life, two sides of the same coin: the quiet contemplation of the photographs and the urgency of the news reporting, the appeal of the stillness of the desert and the quick-reaction times of the news cycle, complementing each other and leading eventually into a combination of both in the observational portraits of paramedics, judges, lawyers or defendants in more recent feature work. It is true that, towards the end, the biographical/archival side loses some steam suggesting some awkwardness in marrying the strands - at which point an extraordinary symphony of out-take plans wraps up perfectly a film that never beats its own drum and simply contemplates the extraordinary work of a long career without false modesties or puffed-up chest-beating.

Directors/writers: Claudine Nougaret, Raymond Depardon
Cinematography: Mr. Depardon (colour, processing by Éclair, Panavision widescreen)
Editor: Simon Jacquet
Producer: Ms. Nougaret  (Palmeraie et Désert, France 2 Cinéma)
France, 2012, 101 minutes

Screened: Festa do Cinema Francês 2012 advance DVD screener, Lisbon, October 7th 2012


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