On the Wandering Paths | Sur les Chemins Noirs (2023)

March 22nd, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Denis Imbert | Jean Dujardin, Josephine Japy, Amy Duperey, Jonathan Zacai | France, Drama 95′ 

A famous writer embarks on an arduous trek through France after an accident puts his life into perspective, in this reflective fourth feature from Denis Imbert. 

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” very much comes to mind in Sur les Chemins Noirs. The journey is far and away the most significant and enjoyable element of this otherwise rather underwhelming affair that sees Jean Dujardin at his most sober and pensive as Pierre: a reformed and hedonistic alcoholic who nearly lost his life after falling from a balcony while under the influence. Based on a novel by Sylvain Tesson, the subject matter was obviously crying out to be filmed on the big screen and works best as a contemplative travelogue capturing the glorious rural scenery of France from the magnificent Mercantour National Park in the Alps Maritimes to Normandy’s Cherbourg Peninsula. Although various urban locations do feature. 

The tricky terrain – not to mention the fanatic cyclists and other hill walkers – make the going tough and laborious for Pierre, who has only just recovered from a leg injuries and a concussion that has left him with a brain injury and epilepsy. But he soldiers on north through France, Imbert helpfully marking out the significant places with inter-titles, just like in the old movies, but now sadly abandoned: There is Plomb de Cantal in the Avergne; Bourganeuf in Aquitaine, and the Loire river and its chateaux stretching out before us, and the white sandy Normandy beaches crowned by Mont Saint-Michel. Along the way, local farmers provide Pierre with cheese, wine and provisions, or a bed for the night, advising him on the pitfalls of the region: such us wolves, or fast flowing rivers. And these meetings and a series of flashbacks allow Imbert and his co-writer Diasteme to flesh out Pierre’s backstory: his previous life as a celebrated author in Paris, his book-signing that leads to a brief affair with a much younger Anna (Japy) – an episode that fails to carry any emotional weight. Pierre admits that his “new mistress is solitude”. Along the way Pierre also visits various friends and family members that are once again forgettable. 

The great outdoors very much eclipses the human element here, characters paling into insignificance compared with France’s glorious landscapes, rivers and mountain peaks. Crucially this is all about the healing powers of nature, our inherent solitude in the scheme of things, and one man’s triumph over adversity and pain. Pierre has now chosen a life of independence and quietly revels in the privation and of being alone after so much excess in his previous existence. DoP Magali Silvestre de Sacy really triumphs with her impressive camerawork, the light changing from the warmth of the south to the gentle washed out colours of the Loire in this pleasant and meditative watch. MT


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