France, the Alps…To most people, this means snow, skiing and holidays. Hardly anyone would think of madness, hatred and crime. However, such is the true nature of the Alps according to living legend of French cinematography Luc Moullet who invites his spectators to the landscape of madness with an ironic smile.
French director and critic Luc Moullet is a “second wave” member of the French New Wave. Like the “big five” French filmmakers (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer and Rivette), he, too, started as a critic writing for Cahiers du Cinema since the age of eighteen. For that matter, he did not drop criticism even during his active filmmaking career. He made a whole range of short and feature films, however, it has been only in the past few years that he received greater international attention.
In his partly autobiographical documentary The Land of Madness (2009), Luc Moullet delimited the “pentagon of madness” in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region where he comes from. My father was a schizophrenic and a fascist, Moullet says in the introductory scene of the film, setting the tone for the stories to follow. Appalling stories of murder, jealousy, hatred and abuse gush out from the screen, as if to make a perfect crime news section. Due to the rapid speed of storytelling, the spectator will not even realize that there were gaps of dozens of years between the individual murders. The film seems to suggest that all of it happened here and now, as if Luc Moullet really took his spectators to a sort of a “Bermuda triangle”.
As usual, the director guides the spectators through his film. His rather exaggerated stiff academic expression is rather disturbing, prompting the question: is he serious or is he making fun of us? The answer seems to lie somewhere in between. As suggested in the final scene of the stage-managed “argument” between the director and his wife, Land of Madness is an exploration of the inner world of the filmmaker rather than a geographic travelogue.
However, that does not imply that the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region has no dark specific magic of its own. After all, Luc Moullet is not the first man to depict it in this way. Years ago, the region was visited by the protagonist of Jean Gion’s famous book The Man Who Planted Trees. However, unlike him, Moullet seems to travel through a landscape without trees. There is no escape from both the wind and the genes; as soon as they rise up, a tragedy is brewing. Despite the fact that Luc Moullet meets no Elzéard Bouffier on the Alpine slopes, his criminal story does not lack sparks of light either. After the director finishes the “horrific and frightful story” of his remote ancestor-murderer, he adds with a deadpan face that he personally is proud that he has not killed anybody. Though there is a bit of irony in his statement, it is meant seriously and genuinely at the same time. After all, if a person of Moullet’s age returns to his native heath, there is always something serious about it.
Luc Moullet seems to have made the film primarily for himself. There is probably much more of him than a detached spectator can tell. The fact that a lover of irony and admirer of American B-movies chose the crime news genre for his introspection is actually no surprise.
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