21 Jul 2022
Charlotte Dupré, M & G Dupré
In May of 2020, during lockdown, cinematographer Charlotte Dupré travelled with their grandparents to their out of the way holiday retreat in Les Ruches, near Ardèche in Southern France. The smallholding seemed like the perfect getaway from the busy, germ infested streets of the city – somewhere with space to roam, land to farm and nature to enjoy – and Charlotte spent two weeks there helping their grandparents to get things set up.
Being a film-maker, Charlotte also wanted to record the occasion, as they spent time with their family and created lasting memories. All they had on them though, was their iPhone, and so what we get is an extended home video, cut together to form a narrative, shot and presented in portrait mode, and seemingly designed to be watched on your mobile phone, too.
Charlotte's film begins as their grandparents prepare for departure and then travel to Les Ruches. Once there the Duprés realise that there are plenty of jobs that need done before they can even think about getting started on the real work of planting food to eat. The garden needs tidied, the grass needs cut, the weeds need pulled and many other things that are outside the domain of the regular urban city-dweller need doing.
Charlotte gets stuck in though, under the tutelage of their grandfather, and has a go at anything that will help. This tends to mean that the camera/phone is placed in one spot while the action takes place and a lot of the film is shot in this way, along with the butt shots, falling audio and half filled frames that this can bring.
When Charlotte takes the camera/phone in hand, they try to interview their grandparents, getting them to relate how they're feeling, along with explaining what they're trying to do and why they're doing it. Even though they aren't sure of the camera, or indeed of the whole process, Charlotte's grandparents stay relaxed and natural and try to answer the questions as best they can, revealing some nice, heartfelt, touching moments as the bond between them grows. It is perhaps this connection, reaching over generations, that saves the film from being a navel gazing exercise, and allows a measure of relatability to creep in.
Being a cinematographer, Charlotte manages to use the iPhone to its best advantage and thinks carefully about how she is framing her shots when she is not in them. The farming scenes give off a feel of the French classic Jean de Florette/ Manon des Sources (1986) and it's easy for the viewer to switch off from the world and become lost in another time and place.
For what is essentially a home movie and an obviously very personal film, Charlotte works hard to make everything fit together so that the story reaches beyond the sum of its parts. From the Candide quotation at the beginning of the film, to the 80's computer game soundtrack by Super Warmech, which plays Vivaldi's Winter in 8-bit, and therefore lends a baroque feel to the proceedings, while linking in to the main conversation of the film about programming on a Commodore 64 – everything builds towards a communication across ages; learning something from our forebears which may otherwise be lost; teaching them something about the new world in return; feeling the connection with the past by connecting with those who lived it – and it is this which stands Les Ruches out from what it might otherwise have been.
It could be easy to dismiss Les Ruches as an uninteresting snapshot of family life in one family alone, and therefore not worth exploring. However, given a little bit of time, an eye for detail and a belief in waiting for something to grow, it will reveal its pleasures to the audience and maybe even teach us something along the way.