April 5, 2008
Le Cochon, 1970
Something of a germinal template for Raymond Depardon's Profils Paysans films on a dying way of life in rural (and largely forgotten) France, Jean Eustache and Jean-Michel Barjol's reverent, vital, and painstakingly observed ethnographic documentary Le Cochon chronicles a day in the life of peasant farmers in the mountainous region of the Massif Central. In hindsight, the central nature of the pig implied by the film's title introduces the element of subverted expectation that would continue to resurface throughout Eustache's body of work. In Le Cochon, the violence of the establishing sequences that record a communal, fattened pig's anxious capture, instinctive struggle, restraint, slaughter, and exsanguination gives way to the unexpected artisanal skill, attentive care, and graceful ritual of its dressing, butchering, food processing, and cooking. In a lingering, stationary shot, the stark whiteness of the dressed pig framed against a bed of straw - still emanating steam from its residual body temperature and the hot water applied during the cleaning - creates an ethereal image that suggests a metaphysical sublimation. In another sequence, a farmer's methodical recovery of the intestines to be used as sausage casing transforms into a seeming rustic ballet in the synchronous sweeping motion of his arms, initially, to obtain equally apportioned lengths, then subsequently, to displace a quantity of rinse water throughout the length of the casing. Later in the film, the delicate precision and innate craftsmanship of sausage making is reflected in the measured drawing and turning of the casing against the meat grinder. In a sense, by presenting these quotidian rituals without narration or intertitles, and relying solely on the words expressed by the farmers in their regional dialect and colloquialisms, the film, too, becomes a sublimation, rejecting the mediation of external translation towards an instinctual coherence of human toil, creativity, and celebration.