Depardon brings country life to Cannes

Third part of "La Vie Moderne" tryptch

CANNES -- Six years after country school portrait "Etre et Avoir" wowed Cannes audiences, veteran agency photographer and documentarian Raymond Depardon is bringing another slice of French rural life to the Croisette.

Un Certain Regard entry "La Vie Moderne" (Modern Life) is the last part in a tryptch of films on peasant life that Depardon has shot over the past decade. The subject sees Depardon, co-counder of the Gamma agency, go back to the roots he walked away from when he left home to find fame as a photographer.

"I was born on a farm," Depardon recounts. "My parents were peasants. I left and traveled all around the world. Then one day I did some photos and showed them to some major American newspapers and I was very touched by their reaction. They said, 'This is your story, it's fantastic, it's quintessentially French.' "

Depardon shot in several low mountainous regions of central and eastern France -- all isolated, wild areas. Instead of setting out to capture a dying way of life, Depardon sought to portray people who are resiliently holding out despite their tough existince.

"I said to myself, 'How can one photograph the peasants of today in a modern way without transforming them into nostalgics and things of the past?' " the helmer said. The key to this was taking the time to interact. "Above all, don't show up with a Leica and snap away," he said. "They're convinced you'll sell the shots as postcards. It was in some ways easier as a filmmaker than as a photographer. At one point, I realized that I could talk to them; that I didn't have to stay behind the viewfinder; that I had to remain an individual and never become a machine."

The other rule Depardon learned was not to film these farmers while they were working. "It was better to film them while they're talking," he said. "They're very chatty. It's almost closer to theater, with a whole mise-en-scene. In winter, they spend a lot of time in the kitchen, discussing, listening, observing. Of course, you hear the accents and it can be a bit pittoresque, but nonetheless they always seek le mot juste. There's something deeply French about these peasants, their way of grumbling, always being a bit pessimistic, being wary of showing happiness."

For the third film in his trilogy, pubcaster France Television came on board as a partner, giving the director a more comfortable budget of 1.2 million euros ($1.8 million). "For the first one, people thought I was mad, and now people are interested, so you can see there's been a change in attitude," Depardon said. International sales are handled by Films Distribution.

So does "Modern Life" have the potential to match "Etre et Avoir's" runaway success both on French turf and overseas? "It'd be great to reach such a wide public," Depardon said. "There's a tenderness in the film. You have the true French -- a bit caricatural maybe, but with lots of generosity."