out of Five
Running time: 113
Intriguing and occasionally moving film with a strong central idea and some engaging interviewees.
What's it all about?
Back to Normandy is director Nicolas Philibert's follow-up to 2002's critically acclaimed documentary Etre et Avoir. In 1975, Philibert was a young assistant director on Rene Allio's film I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister and My Brother…, which told the true story of an 1835 murder, using a cast made up of mostly non-professional actors from the same region in which the crime took place 150 years earlier.
Thirty years later, Philibert returns to Normandy to seek out the original cast members, hoping to discover the impact that the film made on their lives. He finds a surprising number of them and their stories are genuinely fascinating. But will he be able to track down the film's reclusive star, Claude Hebert?
Alongside his various interviewees, Philibert examines both the making of the film and the actual case of Pierre Riviere, using old photographs and clips from the finished film. As a result, several interesting facts emerge, such as the fact that the Riviere trial was one of the first in which psychologists were asked to give evidence.
Several memorable characters emerge from the interviews, most notably Annick Bisson, who was only 16 when she played the surviving sister but who took it terribly seriously, identifying with the part so closely that she later dedicated her life to working with the mentally ill.
That's not to say that the film is entirely without flaws - for one thing it's at least 25 minutes too long and Philibert can't resist including several extended scenes depicting daily farm life, such as goats walking around, tractors being driven, pigs being slaughtered and so on. Needless to say, the pig-slaughtering scene means that the film is definitely not for the squeamish.
In short, Back To Normandy is an engaging documentary that packs an unexpectedly powerful emotional punch. Worth seeing.