Given the sentimental roots of humanity, in art the simplest ideas are sometimes the most powerful. In Georges Rouquier’s Farrebique ou Les quatre saisons, which chronicles a year in the life of a farming family in Goutrens, Aveyron, the time-lapsed blossoming of a spring flower in a field is conjoined with the sound of a baby’s cry of birth indoors. Overwhelming.
The farmstead, Farrebique, belonged to Rouquier’s uncle; his relations and their actual neighbors compose the cast. Applying and expanding on Robert J. Flaherty’s procedure, Rouquier staged events that corresponded to the farmers’ daily lives. His film, which is in the Occitan language, focuses on farm labor and (in an idealized form) family bonds. Ironically pulling it together is the family’s failure to muster the means to build a new house for themselves. Electrification has finally arrived, but much else will have to wait.
The seasonal cycle is also slyly ironical; its changes balance the steady, near ritualistic nature of the people’s lives.
The film is alert to the labor of both farm and wild animals, which mirrors yet deepens the drama of human effort and struggle. Rouquier’s versatile, agile techniques, in tandem with Madeleine Gug’s exquisite editing, move this documentary in the direction of narrative without cheapening the material. André Danton’s black-and-white cinematography achieves fine lyrical poetry. Time-lapse work is tremendous, for instance, in the progressive growth of shadows. Haunting.
I do not quite know how to process Grandpa’s death. Is this at all real? It’s overly neat. (A cruel joke?)
Farrebique won major prizes at both Venice and Cannes.
The film’s financial failure doomed Rouquier’s hopes to follow it promptly with a sequel. The passage of years, however, made it a classic, and Rouquier’s sequel came thirty-six years later: Biquefarre.
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