The story of a French family in super

In 1972, Philippe and Annie Ernaux bought a super-8 camera. He works at the town hall of Annecy, she is a professor of literature and writes, in secret, her first novel, empty cupboards. The couple, young and beautiful, have two children, Éric, 7, and David, 3, precisely co-director of this film broadcast on Arte, this week, and at the cinema, in December.

A super-8 camera films silent images. We imagine the laughter of the children, the dialogues, the tone sometimes of the interlocutors. The original lyrics, the sound of the voices flew away. “We film what we will never see twice”, as “the walk with the in-laws, whose words and gestures vanished in the air of this summer day”, as the narrator points out, without regret, without pathos: it’s an observation. Until 1981, the year of their separation, the couple filmed important family events such as birthdays and Christmas, a return from school or a correction of exams, their successive houses and apartments, a green-eyed cat passing from arm to arm. The couple travels and films Chile under the presidency of Allende, Greece then, just before their separation, Moscow, at the time of the USSR: they are a couple on the left, committed to their time, who watch the world change , her children grow, her love crumble. All with this pen which seems so detached but which basically retraces an entire era, including through the songs of those years, from South from Nino Ferrer to Indian summer by Joe Dassin.

capture the fleeting emotion

Annie Ernaux relies on these images without making them say more than what they say. She observes, with the help of this diary, who she was, “a young woman with long hair, in a seventies dress, with abrupt gestures”, so calm in front of the camera. While inside she’s boiling writing that first book ” secretly “ when she has ” no lessons “, a “novel that tells how studies, culture (h) have separated from (his) working class background”. She observes this simple family happiness from afar and, as in her novels, dissects it: it is Philippe, the husband, who films, and she leaves him this role which interests him moderately, result also “of a gendered distribution of (their) domestic responsibilities established at the beginning of (their) lives together”.

Philippe sometimes captures the people who make up their lives, her, Annie, their two sons, their respective parents, her sister. But also furniture, inanimate everyday objects, and landscapes. Everything that, on seeing the films again, no longer has any importance, so much does one seek, says the writer, the fleeting emotion of a mother’s body in motion, of a child’s laughter. The film tells as much, in its ellipses, the need to cling to the decor of her husband, traumatized by a passage in boarding school, child, as the end of a love story. And even more, it shows a story of emancipation, that of Annie Ernaux. It’s beautifully told, in this funny hybrid object, half-film, half-literary text.

The story of a French family in super-8