George Routier’s Farrebique was the first Fipresci award at the Cannes Festival and this year there will be a special performance of the film in celebration of the anniversary of both Fipresci itself and the film. Fipresci is the International Association of Film Critics which now covers 62 countries and distributes awards at a large number of film festivals worldwide.
Most people think that the critic’s chief job is to report on the latest films put before the public. But it is equally important to remind cinema goers of went before in the short history of the cinema. This is what Fipresci, the international association of film critics, has always tried to do. In a period when the theatrical audience for films is substantially younger than it was when the family audience held sway, the task of informing the young about the cinema’s heritage becomes more and more important. The ignorance that often prevails is depressing in the extreme.
That is why I am happy to celebrate George Rouquier’s Farrebique, a documentary made in black and white in 1945 which still manages after all these years to be included in many lists of the ten most innovative documentaries ever made. Amazingly, it was Rouquier’s first feature and came as a necessary corrective to the often flimsy escapism of the French cinema during the German Occupation. Its view of the world was both naturalistic and poetic as the film traces the four seasons and the work and lives of farmers deep in the French countryside.
We see a grandfather’s death and the birth of a baby, the ploughing and harvesting, a way of life as hard as it was fulfilling. The pageant of the seasons was all-important in these simple people’s lives. While being affirmative, Farrebique is never sentimental and, while often simplicity itself, it is never naive. Yes, it subscribes to Petain’s ideology of “work, family and fatherland”. But if it is linked to the Occupation years, it also pushes past the stern barriers of the time.
You can watch the film now and note its occasional lack of sophistication and even political awareness of a world beyond its confines. But it still works brilliantly on the senses. It makes you believe in these people and the microcosm they live in, commanded by a nature that is in turn kind and cruel. Rouquier is not like Visconti and his film is not like La Terra Trema. Nor does the comparison with the praised British school of documentary and Flaherty hold up. Farrebique is a unique film made with love and skill, and no one studying the documentary form should fail to see it. Unlike many observational films made now it allows you to think your own thoughts. The film whispers rather than shouts. It has been copied many times but remains proudly its inimitable self.
— Derek Malcolm, Honorary President of Fripesci.