Screened as part of NZIFF 2001

Down to Earth 1999

Les Terriens

Directed by Ariane Doublet

France In French with English subtitles
84 minutes Beta-SP



Juliette Guigon, Patrick Winocour


Jean-Christophe Leforestier


Sophie Mandonnet


Graciela Barrault


Louis Lefèbvre
Gilbert Lethuiller
Francis Lethuiller
Pierre Désert
Yves Edouard
Albertine Lethuiller
Françoise Lethuiller
Annick Olivier
Valérie Olivier
Philippe Olivier
Georges Peltier

Ariane Doublet’s droll and affectionate documentary captures a salt-of-the-earth farming community about to be thrust by cosmic forces into the spotlight of national television. The date for the twentieth century’s last total eclipse of the sun is fast approaching, and the farmers of Vettot-sur-mer live in the best place in France for watching it. They must ready themselves for an invasion of sky-watching urbanites.

Of course cosmic events always govern the demanding practicalities of rural life for the farmers – or ‘peasants’ as one of them declares with aplomb. Their lives are attuned to lunar phases (there is nothing like a lettuce planted under a full moon), to the smell of impending rain, to the cloud formations that tell of coming wind. Mole activity, cock-crow, or a passing truck have more meaning than the attention of distant cities. Indeed, it would be quite satisfying if this eclipse were a washout and everyone stayed at home.

Meanwhile they prepare for the worst. There is major concern for these foreigners who will arrive unaware of the rigours of country life. Will they fall from the cliffs? If people need special glasses, should the cows have them, too? And the dogs: shouldn’t they be kept indoors?

Albertine, 80, continues to knead and pat butter into yellow mounds of treasure, as she always has, but these people, with their feet so firmly planted on the ground, are lucid about the eclipse of their way of life that is also approaching. Doublet’s confidants may dispute whether they are peasants or farmers, but they take pride in being self-sufficient even if they’re ‘a bit lost at parties with bigwigs and suchlike’. What is never in dispute is the charm or earthy truth of this warm and funny tribute to an increasingly precarious way of life which France, more than most Western countries, continues to hold dear. — SR