16 April 2024

DVD Review: Nicholas Philibert Collection


reviewer: Dexter Kong
Rated: 12A(UK)
Release Date: 27th June 2011
DirectorNicolas Philibert


I was first captivated by Nicholas Philibert’s documentary film making upon being shown Être Et Avoir (To Have and to Have). It follows a one-class school of small French village, it’s pupils and teachers. It was enthralling in how he captured the lives of these people and the emotional attachment of the teacher to his job. In what was seem as a badly paid profession in France, this classic approach to teaching through an incredibly tempered and clam disposition, in trying to make the children understand how it all applied to life, was a glimpse of what has become a rarity in the modern profession. Être Et Avoir, catapulted a small town teacher Georges Lopez, in to the public eye and a man who unassumingly went about his every day job suddenly became a national hero.

Though this later became a somewhat contentious issue once the praise and profit started to flow in; it is undoubted that it was the manner in which this idyllic school was captured, which was the true cause of the public interest.

Philibert has very much his own style to documentary film making in which he quite often uses the visuals to make one laugh at these situations, whether it be just holding on a lingering shot or obscuring people off camera, there is a slight surrealism about it. He is able to capture a snapshot of the heart of his subject matters. His box set release includes four of his documentaries: Etre Et Avoir, Back to Normandy, Louvre City and the recent Nénette. Each covering a diverse range of subjects.

Back to Normandy follows Philibert reconnecting with a film in which he was involved 30 years prior. It follows a strange metaphysical narrative, tracing it’s steps as if the film he was involve in were a real occurrence, though this in itself has an underlying duality. Fiction and Non-Fiction blend in to one as voiced exposition describes the film character’s thoughts, whilst the audience peek behind the curtain. It is a whimsical look in to what has become of the lives of the non-actors who took part and their experience.

Lourve City, allows us to see the renovation of the Lourve and how the gallery’s curators muse over their reserve artworks, just after the construction of the now famous glass pyramid. Again Philibert offers an enjoyable and light hearted look at the hard work that goes behind the preparation of an exhibition at what is one of the most renown art galleries in the world. There is a certain levity in watching the pondering of which art to showcase in the selection of masterpieces and genuine intrigue in seeing the painting retouches and preservation. Philibert uses the camera to a surreal effect to bring works of art to life in their movement in to the gallery and juxtaposes the scale of the massive workforce from backroom management to the physical labourers.

Nénette, his latest offering is the gloomy outlook of an Orangutan, at the Parisian zoo, who has lived most of her life in captivity. The camera stays in a fixed position from the other side of the glass. As we constantly stare out toward Nénette we hear different dialogue over the imagery; from the ogling of everyday visitors to recordings of the zookeepers discussing Nénette’s disposition. I found this to be the least engaging of Philibert’s documentaries as he drops his unique visual style in exchange to make the audience feel an affinity for the despressing  mundaneness of Nénette, though it lacks engagement because of this.

Nicholas Philbert’s collection is due for release 27th June and for fans of his work it is an enticing introspective in to the range to subject matters that he has covered. Though his other works never reach the amount of engagement that Etre Et Avoir held, his style of documentary making is something that is unique among his peers.


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