Mentally impaired people were featured in Ordet,
Oasis or The Best of Youth, that rehabilitated the
gesture and talks of "abnormal" behavior usually veilled
behind politicaly correct statements or simply ignored. Here, the
autistic child is the sole protagonist and owns the entirety of
the story. Yves is the first-person narrator, the on-screen hero,
and the subjective camera. The disturbing topic of mental illness
and its incapacity is treated frontaly without distracting melodramatization,
external commentary or supporting cast.
When first-time filmmaker and psychologist Fernand
Deligny met Yves Guignard in 1958, Yves had been locked away in
a mental institution for five years, a traumatic experience leaving
him in a prostrated posture blocking any interaction with the outside
world. It took years of compassionate patience and watchful attention
for Yves to even articulate his disordered monologues. As in the
film, Deligny's peculiar method apprehended the imperceptible expressions
beneath language because he believed in restoring the dignity of
infra-human behaviors. In his eponymous book published in 1979,
Les détours de l'agir ou le moindre geste, he clearly states
that the intention to act or to behave is more important than the
accomplishment of doing. Other books on the same subject are lyrically
titled These Autistic Children Whose Project Escapes Us or The Efficient
Vagabonds. This is a serious evolution in the conception of mentally
challenged behaviors that are apparently eccentric, whimsical or
unpredictable. Le Moindre Geste is an admirable testimony to experience
the impossible autistic world from inside by piecing together the
remnants of a lonely daily life.
Deligny treated people who were labeled "incurable"
by the academic community and he developed an alternate therapy
involving dramatization, games, and creative activity contrary to
the usual procedure based on drugs, shocks, isolation, and mistreatments.
A simple project to play with Yves in 1962 by studying his preoccupations
turned out to become a feature film with the help of François
Truffaut (Deligny was an advisor on The 400 Blows in 1959--he actually
suggested its closing sequence on the beach--as well as on The Wild
Child in 1971). Psychology can be a social art, introducing play
into the tyrannical routines of autism, helping us understand its
shuttered world and reminding us of the dignity and humanity hidden
This film was improvised on location for two years
with a non-professional crew of four, and they revealed an extraordinary
understanding of cinematic language. Sumptuous 35mm black &
white photography artistically composed by Josée Manenti
(who had never used a camera before), largely comprised of silent,
uneventful lingering shots are intensified by images of ruins and
a desolate environment. A discontinuous soundtrack overlaps Yves'
soliloquy and creates the most experimental aspect of the film.
Image and sound were neglected until Jean-Pierre Daniel edited the
film in 1969 into something of a narrative (following Deligny's
storyboard) out of 20 accumulated hours of footage.
Unexpectedly, what Deligny called a "monster-film"
wound up selected for the Cannes Film Festival (Critic's Week) in
1971! Lost again later, the film was resurrected with the help of
Chris Marker to be released commercially only today.
Yves, an autistic young man (played by Yves Guignard, an autistic
actor), runs away from an oppressive mental institution and meanders
across the dry and barren landscape of the Cévènnes
rocky hills in southern France, bathed in sunlight. Yves is joined
by Richard, a 13-year-old child from a nearby village, who locks
Yves in an enclosure in a derelict pasture.
As Yves tears down the bottom of an old door and crawls his way
out of the prison Richard left him in, he turns around and continues
to slam the door from outside. Instead of challenging Richard
for his mean trick, he hits the object that kept him from moving.
This reaction might sound misdirected, but the release of anxiety
is no different than a "normal" person who demolishes
the phone upon reception of bad news...
Later, however, Richard falls into a hole and screams for help
while Yves strives to rescue him to the best of his ability, totally
mindless of the emergency.
This deliberately-paced cinematic journey offers a difficult
yet poetic allegory on the mental impairment of a walled-in being.
Minimalist in form, with fragmented montage and de-contextualized
soundtrack, the film wonderfully illustrates the lack of communication
in a world disconnected from any surrounding concerns and limited
by short term memory and attention spans. The story portrays the
occurrence of an emergency crisis in the life of an autistic child
and tragically depicts how the concept of danger is trivial to
him, generating a series of anachronistic events barely integrated
by word association.
Once Richard screams "Yves" (offscreen) from the bottom
of his dark hole, Yves follows his flawed logic without being
able to abstract himself towards a projected future, or a recalled
past, which explains the timing of his responses. Instead of reaching
for help, he first installs a barricade in front of the ruin as
a cautious warning. Then he proclaims his death, and proceeds
with a symbolic funeral, piling up stones around a wooden cross.
Only later will he look for a rope, and waste precious time trying
to attach two pieces of a broken string together. The never-ending
noises coming from a close quarry attracts his attention, but
he falls into catatonic contemplation. Finally he drags along
a cable found on a railroad, but falls into a compulsive tremor
when the cable gets stuck to a tree. These moments of a "peaceful
panic" tell the struggle of an introverted soul attempting
to grasp a hostile environment
Yves demonstrates a remarkable obsession to control each new
situation despite the shallow scope of his personal awareness.
He's like a fly hitting a window without understanding why the
path to freedom is denied, why reality refuses to be subdued to
his will. Even his motion is a fight against his own body. We
observe his quest with emotion and worry, every step of the way,
while Richard is abandoned to his fate.
Yves' dialogue, always uttered loudly with an unexplainable rage
like a narrator talking to himself, constitutes long-winded speeches
truncated into portions of unfinished phrases assembling a patchwork
of ideas: a lifelong witness of an absurd environment recorded
incoherently in a mad mind. We can discern his words from TV,
political propaganda (General De Gaulle's speeches), automated
prayers (from Catholic lectures), furious insults (of the institution
guardians), etc. But unlike the parrot's mimic, the human sensitivity
emerges through a collection of words that obviously don't belong
to him: a textbook practice of "automatic writing" venerated
by the Surrealists and Sigmund Freud because the subconscious
speaks its own infra-language between familiar images.
Yves' profound resentment against humanity arises after a while
thanks to telling phrases: "They locked me up at the mad
house, locked up all the way [talking about his own body], that's
as much as they could do, bunch of savages"; "the coffin
of our childhood"; "The mad house, it's like hell, it's
like communists, it's like the dead"; "The dead don't
cry, they sniffle"; "The dead when they dream they phone";
"The dead bless themselves."
The juxtaposition of this layered discourse with such an overwhelming
dramatic gesture makes this docudrama a tremendously thought-provoking
(with English translation help by Doug
1970/2004 - Fernand Deligny - France
Directing : Josée Manenti / Jean Pierre Daniel
Scenario : Fernand Deligny
Photo : Josée Manenti
Son : Aimé Agnel / Jean-Pierre Ruh
Editing : Jean Pierre Daniel
Cast : Yves Guignard, Richard Brougère, Numa
Durand, Anita Durand, Marie-Rose Aubert, Fabienne D., Monsieur T.
Presented in Cannes for the Critic's Week in 1971
Content : + + +
Playwright : + +
Mise en scene: + +
Craft : + + +
Inspiration : + + + +