This ten-program retrospective covers the full range of Raymond Depardon’s diverse career and includes excellent films in several different styles, most of the films Chicago premieres. Depardon learned photography as a child and became a photojournalist in his teens. His first films were inspired by the “direct cinema” documentaries of Ricky Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker, but later he made fictional films as well as impressionistic film essays not unlike those of Chris Marker. While he’s not a great stylistic innovator, his best work responds intensely and affectingly to its subjects. All films and videos are in French with subtitles unless otherwise noted. Screenings take place at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton. For more information call 773-281-4114 or visit www.facets.org.
San Clemente (1980, 102 min., in Italian with subtitles), one of Depardon’s best direct cinema works (codirected by Sophie Ritselhueber), observes the “incurables” in a psychiatric hospital near Venice. The expected weirdness–a man spinning in circles with his pants down, for instance–is offset by the sympathetic camera, which affords each patient a free space that the hospital would deny them. (Tuesday, July 6, at 7 and 9 PM.) Emergencies (1987, 94 min.), also in the direct cinema tradition, examines the psychiatric emergency room of a Paris hospital. The patients, such as a coldly rational 65-year-old man who’s just tried to hang himself and asks for “help” in the form of cyanide, are morbidly fascinating. (Monday, July 5, at 9 PM; Saturday, July 10, at 5 PM.)
Of the three fictional films in the series, two are superb. Empty Quarter: A Woman in Africa (1985, 83 min., in French with English voice-over) purports to be a diary of Depardon’s romantic relationship with a pretty traveling companion (Francoise Prenant). The camera gazes at her from a variety of angles while the unseen narrator speaks of his fascination with her; she eventually talks back, calling him “asshole.” (Friday, July 2, at 8:45 PM; Thursday, July 8, at 8:45 PM.) The austere Captive of the Desert (1990, 102 min.), based on the true story of a French woman held captive by African nomads, is visually stunning, its intense bright yellows and blues capturing the starkness of desert sand and sky. (Saturday, July 3, at 3 and 7 PM.)
In the best of the two essay films, the autobiographical Les annees declic (1983, 67 min.), Depardon revisits photographs he took between 1957 and 1977. A voice-over detailing his early career accompanies shots of movie stars and events such as the opening night of Breathless, while inserted images of the photographer’s face embed his identity in the images he’s created. (Showing with Contacts, William Klein’s video short about Depardon, Saturday, July 3, at 1 PM; Sunday, July 11, at 3 PM.) In Africas: What About the Pain? (1996, 169 min.) Depardon traverses the continent from South Africa to Egypt, acting on his wish to “go roaming around with a movie camera, to let myself be carried away by the images.” Majestic circular pans move from Edenic nature to scenes of human poverty and ruination. The effect is powerful, but Depardon arguably overstates African devastation: hardly anyone is shown working. (Sunday, July 4, at 1 PM and 6:30 PM.) –Fred Camper
Numeros zero (with two shorts) (Friday, July 2, at 6:30 PM; Thursday, July 8, at 6:30 PM.)
Untouched by the West (Saturday, July 3, at 5 and 9 PM.)
Profils paysans: l’approche (Sunday, July 4, at 4:30 PM; Sunday, July 11, at 4:30 PM.)
Caught in the Act (Monday, July 5, at 7 PM; Saturday, July 10, at 3 PM.)