Photographer and filmmaker Raymond Depardon takes on an ambitious project; after spending years away from home, capturing other people’s stories, he returns home to France to learn more about his native land. As he travels the country in a camper van, Depardon’s long time collaborator Claudine Nougaret goes through his lengthy documentary footage, carefully stored in the basement.
Depardon is a well known photojournalist and film maker in France, but many of his films have never been released outside his own country. The portrait of the filmmaker that emerges through Journal De France not only chronicles the history of the world we live in and the conflicts that have gone before, but also gives us an insight into the life of the man who captured these images; some of which were controversial, and others that landed Depardon in court.
As well as the mix of personal and global history in Journal De France, there is also a wonderful combination of past and present; Depardon travels the country taking pictures on a now outmoded camera; a large format camera that can only take one picture at a time. While doing this, Depardon also carries a smart phone on his travels; a curious juxtaposition. The past comes to the fore with the use of the archive footage from the Venezuelan coup d’état in 1958, Nelson Mandela giving the camera a minute’s silence in 1993, Biafra, Chad and the Prague Uprising, to name but a few.
As the documentary goes on, it becomes clear that the film is a chance for Depardon to not only clear the skeletons from his cupboard, but to reflect back on the life he has led. What emerges is a portrait of a man who doggedly kept filming even when he shouldn’t, and now values the silence he has earned in his later life.
Journal De France is a journal of present day France, world history from the 1960s and of the photographer who captured striking and controversial images. We learn little about Depardon himself – even through the voice over supplied by Claudine Nougaret – but we do learn the tenacity needed to keep filming, even when one probably should not. It all turns a bit Koyaanisquatsi in the end, but this works because of the striking images presented on screen. It’s just a shame we don’t learn more about the man behind the camera.