On the Wandering Paths [Sur les chemins noirs] — Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023

Review by John P. Harvey.

After suffering a serious fall, writer and climber Pierre hears that he may never walk again.  During his subsequent two months in a hospital bed, he promises himself that he will walk the breadth of France in order to heal from his injuries.  And so he does.

Pierre’s journey of 1300 km, a little of that over water but otherwise on foot, is one that he describes as being one of redemption, though whether that refers to anything other than healing the injuries that he admittedly caused himself is not made quite clear.  The movie hints at a broader context: the sudden loss of the carefree, occasionally larrikin, very active lifestyle he had enjoyed with his girlfriend, Anna (Joséphine Japy); the grievous departure of his mother; and perhaps some other grinding grief.  But it’s essentially an act of will and of reconnection to his native land.

Along the way, Pierre connects up with family members and friends for a short time, but he gives little and shares less, and he seems remarkably unchanged by the journey except in having strengthened his body.  He appears to have no special regard even for his remarkably supportive new friend, Dylan (Dylan Robert), whose generosity of spirit plays an important part in that journey.

Nonetheless, the film, based on a true story, is an interesting character study, one that extends to the land Pierre traverses: the rural tracts and remaining wildernesses of France, the quiet villages, the waterways.  The process of appreciating grand vistas and connecting to the land is what makes his journey a rewarding one, and It’s a lovely way to sample France itself.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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