Farrebique and Biquefarre,
two major documentary movies on Aveyron and rural France
In 1985, François (Amy) de la Bretèque, Professor at the University of Cinema at Montpellier, France, described both full-feature films Farrebique –released in 1946, filmed 1944 to 1945– and Biquefarre – released in 1983– as case studies to be discussed in cinema schools.
Farrebique and Biquefarre plots
Farrebique, part of the village of Goutrens, Aveyron, is as well the name of the farm owned by the Rouquier family. The farm working days are shown in the movie, throughout the four seasons in Aveyron, such as the winter nights with the family sitting by the fireplace and the oil lamp, Roch the oldest son kneading the bread and the women following on the process. Of notable interest is the fact the name Goutrens comes from the German term "Goth" meaning "people". For years there has been a dispute between the two villages of Goutrens and Cassagnes-Comtaux whereas the village got the name of Cassagnes-Goutrens. Then in 1917, it became Goutrens.
Comes spring and the nature fermenting, the electricity to be brought in to the farm, summer and the farm works such as harvest, haying, or the family going to the village's mass and a work accident.
Finally, fall comes and plowing takes place along with the discussion around the estate to be shared among the family members. By the end the patriarch dies. Although Farrebique was filmed from 1944 to 1945, no mention whatsoever is made in regards to the German occupation of France.
Biquefarre brings us to the same place, Goutrens, Aveyron, a few kilometres away but thirty eight years later.
The Farrebique farm is still owned by the oldest of the family and his son but times have changed. A neighbour looking at selling his property, Biquefarre, as his land is too small to be sustainable. The movie goes into great detail about the negotiations around the sale. The sale will go to the neediest one, Farrebique, thanks to the negotiation skills of the youngest son Henri who had to leave the estate years back to find a job somewhere else. During the same time work continues in and around the farm such as plowing, sowing, harvesting, milking, fertilizers, machinery and pesticides.
Release of the two films and outcome
When Farrebique got released, it first became controversial, even eliminated from the selection at the Cannes Film Festival but was seen as out-of-competition but won the International Critics Award. A large U.S. distribution company, RKO Pictures, bought the film rights and had great success. The years passed and the film collected favours and various awards. Among them, the film has now become an extensively taught classic, even studied as a model of its kind in American universities. So much that Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg do not hesitate to hail Farrebique as a reference.
Curiously, the U.S. gave a jump start in 1980 to the venture of producing Biquefarre. Farrebique was already long standing in American universities as a film of great interest, both from an ethnographic but a sociological perspective as well. In the U.S., it is ranked as highly as Potemkin in the realm of event movies in the world of cinema. After giving a series of lectures in New York, Georges Rouquier met three university professors. They helped him in the process of finding funds for Biquefarre. From thereon the director started on his work such as building up a custom scenario. To note, Biquefarre is a perfectly reconstituted movie where the characters express the life of real people.
Not to dwell too much on evidences –although the film is quite persistent on the topic– in forty years mechanization has reached all sectors of the agricultural work. Tractors have replaced the oxen of yore. Tractors saturate the landscape in his Biquefarre movie. Their colours and movements are filmed in a composed ballet. The sowing is mechanically-assisted hence the ancient human gesture is gone. Insecticides and pesticides are added to the already chemically-fertilized soil. A likely environmentalist discourse underlies a specific sequence where the camera lingers on the agony of sprayed insects. Now with 40 years separating the two sets, the ensemble provides a leading and living document for whomever wants to study the evolution of the French rural world. The director himself enforces the parallel concept as he super-imposes a few shots of the first om the second movie as well as his voice over. But both movies are halfway between documentary and fiction.
Biography of Georges Rouquier
Georges Rouquier was born on June 23, 1909 at Lunel Viel, in the Hérault département, next to Aveyron. His father was from Aveyron and his mother from Languedoc. Up to the age of five, his life was quite uneventful – he just felt quite lonely. His mother run a small grocery store in Montpellier thus had little time for care of her son. His father was busy alike, operating a dairy farm with one of his brothers. Hence Georges was dreaming a lot. One of his favorite pastime was going to the cinema as there was one close to the grocery store. He did not have much money to spend. So he was seating at the cheapest places, the ones located behind the screen. Hence a passion for cinema was born.
War broke out in 1914 and his father got called up. Georges's environment darkened. His mother became sad, often cried he recalled in a biography. The word war was everywhere but this word meant only one thing to Georges, woe.
In February of 1915, the father of Georges got killed at Verdun. He was 33 years old and Georges 6. Everything changed from thereon as his mother had to sell the store and find work somewhere else. Then she sent her son living a few months with his uncle at Goutrens, on the farm called Farrebique, owned by cousins. His cousins welcomed him as a brother. He stayed six months. Then he went to Montpellier to go to school.
At age 14, he was looking at working to help his mother. He got hired as a typographer apprentice in a printing shop at Montpellier. When 16, he moved to Paris where his cousin Renée lived with her husband, the renown cartoonist and illustrator Albert Dubout.
After a few setbacks, he would find a job as linotypist in a printing shop at Choisy-le-Roi. Now that he can make a living, he would go back often to the cinema. He regularly attended the then famous Parisian cinemas such as Les Ursulines, the Ciné Latin, and the Studio 28. Becoming an avid movies buff and reading numerous film magazines, he was eager to know more but about everything about cinema.
One day, he stumbled across an interview of Eugène Deslaw. Deslow was indicating a film such as La Marche des Machines (1927) had cost him only 2,500 Francs.
Rouquier reacted: "2,500 Francs! Some would make films but not me?”
He worked extra hours and saved enough so that one day he would have 2,500 Francs, which he did. Immediately quitting his job he went south of France to film his first short Vendanges in 1929. Despite a good paper by film critic Maurice Bessy, Rouquier was still unsatisfied.
Those were the times when sound was to be added to movies hence more funding money was to be raised. Georges's dreams started crumbling.
1942 was a turning point year in Rouquier's career though. Thirteen years after directing Vendanges, he met Étienne Lallier, a producer who agreed to fund his next project Le Tonnelier.
Although filming took place in the south of France —technically not German-occupied— getting the right authorizations to cross the line was not an easy task.
But the film Le Tonnelier would be awarded the Grand Prize from the Documentary Film Congress in 1943, tied with two other shorts. To avoid being requested to go work in Germany —under the French collaborationist Vichy regime it was mandatory, unless specific reasons, for all young French men to go work in Germany for a certain period of time. This was called the STO (Service de Travail Obligatoire)— Rouquier agreed to to be a full-fledged filmmaker accepting commissioned films.
in 1943, under this agreement he filmed the following shorts: Le Charron, La Part de L'Enfant and L'Économie des Métaux.
From November 1944 to March 1945, Rouquier filmed Farrebique at his cousins' farm. That was shortly after Lallier requested a full-feature film with a plot around the four seasons. The film got released in 1946 and won the International Critics Grand Prize at Cannes the same year, along with other such as the French Cinema Grand Prize, the Gold Medal at Venice (1948), and the Grand Epi d'Or at Rome (1953).
Georges Rouquier (1909-1989) directed five full-feature films and close to twenty shorts. As well, he acted in eight movies.
- 1929 – Vendanges (short)
- 1942 – Le Tonnelier (short that received the Documentary Grand Prize at Paris in 1943)
- 1943 – Le Charron (short), La Part de L'Enfant (short), L'Économie des Métaux (short)
- 1946 – Farrebique (full-feature that received the International Critics Grand Prize at Cannes in 1946)
- 1947 – L'oeuvre Scientifique de Louis Pasteur (short)
- 1949 – Le Chaudronnier (short)
- 1950 – Le Sel de la Terre (short)
- 1952 – Un Jour Comme les Autres (short)
- 1952 – Le Lycée sur la Colline (short)
- 1954 – Sang et Lumières (full-feature)
- 1954 – Malgovert (short that received the Short Prize in 1955)
- 1955 – Arthur Honegger (short that received the Grand Prize of Art Film at Venice in 1957)
- 1956 – Lourdes et ses Miracles (full-feature that received the Prize of the Festival of Tours in 1955)
- 1956 – La Bête Noire (short)
- 1957 – S.O.S. Noronha (full-feature)
- 1958 – Une Belle Peur (short)
- 1959 – Le Notaire de trois Pistoles (short)
- 1960 – Le Bouclier (short)
- 1964 – Sire le Roy n'a plus rien dit (short)
- 1964 to 1967 – Series of shorts for the (then) School TV channel
- 1972 – Les Saisons et les Jours (short for the local northern TV FR3 Lille)
- 1976 – Le Maréchal-ferrant (short that received the César for Short Documentary in 1977)
- 1983 – Biquefarre (full-feature that received the Special Grand Prize from the Jury at Venice in 1983
Top banner photo: View of Cassagnes-Comtaux and surroundings