Sculpting History

Emilie Bickerton in Sidecar:

Images one after the other, combining clips from films and newsreels of the 1950s and 60s, including some we remember from the cinema, and then, in the next frame, an unknown shot of a woman wearing an apron sitting in her kitchen talking about her daily routine, or of children perched on the edge of a sandpit recounting their dreams from the night before. Here we are in a typical sequence from Retour à Reims (fragments), the fourth feature by Jean-Gabriel Périot, which employs the filmmaker’s signature method to survey its subject – in this case, the experiences of women and the working class in post-war France. Périot works by assembling a vast array of visual documents that he has collected, like a curator arranging a new hanging in a gallery to offer a fresh perspective on an artist’s oeuvre.

Since Périot’s early shorts of the 2000s, made when he worked in the multimedia department of the Pompidou, he has honed a distinctive approach that dispenses with many of the familiar attributes of the documentary form. Much of his work begins in the archives and ends in the editing studio. Périot spends years – seven in this case – researching and gathering material on a chosen subject without, he says, an end in mind, only questions that need answers, before intricately weaving them together. The results so far have been impressive, producing an original, eclectic oeuvre that includes his Une jeunesse allemande (2015), an important study of the far left in 1970s Germany and their relationship with the mass media.

More here.