Friday, August 22, 2014

La Maison des bois

1971, France, directed by Maurice Pialat

Pialat's 1971 television series is an immersive, all-encompassing work, set in a small French village during the Great War and using the experiences of a handful of Parisian children sent to live with a rural family as a means to sketch French society of the time. The format is perfectly suited to Pialat's expansive, quietly observational style -- there's ample space for the privileged moment and for scenes to unspool in unhurried fashion, whether it's the lazy Renoir-esque summer picnic (with it's comedy interstices) or the tableau of weary, homesick soldiers passing through. Pialat finds ways to insert all of the key elements of wartime village life -- the home guard, the church, the school, even the local aristocracy. It's only when the film leaves the rural setting that it stumbles: the seventh and final episode seems awkwardly tagged on, undercutting the poignancy of what came before. I've read online that Pialat himself didn't like the episode, though can't find a source for that; whatever the reasons, it feels like the work of another, with far less of the subtlety that makes the remainder of the work so compelling.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States