This is a documentary edited down from 22 hours of recording to 58 minutes and Esperance de Vie was shown in three local cinemas – in Josselin, at Locminé and in Grand Champ.
The main personality around whom this film is based, Jean Guillemet, aged 76 conveys his feelings about how society has changed since smallholdings were regrouped, that people started leaving the countryside for the towns, that shops and schools closed and how life although much harder was somehow much simpler.
Jean depicts his vision of relationships between people which were simpler in the past, people were more in direct contact, more open, and insights us to reflect on his maxim “it’s the motivation that counts”.
The Simple things in life
We followed Jean Guillemet over the space of 2 years walking over his countryside and local villages, through 2 local gatherings, a visit to a standing stone where he brought together four generations of people, the oldest of whom a lady of 96 years old, and his building of a traditional well on his land, a symbol of how life was simpler in the past.
However, he gives us a glimpse of something of a hard country life where children were required to walk 3 km to school across fields, people lived in sometimes isolated houses, often without electricity or running water and bread had to be fetched from the communal oven where it was baked in the village.
Dependency on Networks
He invites us to ask ourselves whether life is better today having become dependent on electricity and water networks. “We didn’t have any money but we didn’t need it,” he says because although we didn’t have very much we didn’t have either the temptations with which we are confronted so often today.
Jean Guillemet isn’t really suggesting a return to the past but he questions the logic of some of today’s common practices. He reacts with some emotion to potato crops that were burnt just because there were too much. It makes you think about some of the crazy things we do in a world where so many people don’t have enough to eat.
A well known cyclist
His friends describe the physical stamina and strength that Jean Guillemet demonstrated as a keen cyclist when he won so many races on a simple bike. He even rode to Germany and Hungary on his bike. He tells us in his enigmatic way that it’s not the bike that counts but the person. They tell us also about the major accident that he had when a car he was repairing collapsed on his head and yet he recovered. It seems that this experience has some kind of spiritual element to it.
Full of life and full of strength, his friends and acquaintances tell us of their friendship and admiration for a man who convinces our solve the power of the will, of desire, perseverance and strength of character. He says “if you really want something, you can do it”
Jean Guillemet wanted to convey his message to the younger generation. He recognises how life has been made easier in many ways but reminds us that it hasn’t always been this way, that some people made do, and that despite having little found friendship, joy and happiness through laughter, community and sharing.
Understanding the theme
This video project was a real challenge for us as in the absence of budget we filmed on all sorts of different cameras including two iPhones and two DV cameras.
Editing was also a challenge to reduce 22 hours of footage filmed without prescription in several locations. But to complete the editing we were obliged to sift through the footage painstakingly, attributing subject and meaning in order to build a sensible timeline.
But without a budget, the work can only be completed if, as Jean Guillemet himself would say: “You can do it if you want to”. The quality of the final product is not perfect. It would be nice to have had access to great cameras and better quality sound recording. But even as it is, Jean Guillemet invites us to reflect on the quality of life and some of our core values.
For me, some of these themes have been a source of much reflection and remain contemporary in an ever-changing world. It is unwise to romanticize a past that was physically difficult and lacking comfort but we are certainly invited to think about the present, to analyze today’s society, our values, and to distinguish between what is important and what is not.
Lessons for society
To summarize the numerous themes on which Jean touches: society, ecology, simplicity, the passage of time, the consumer society, industrialisation and progress. But there remains a slight feeling of regret that such country communities broke apart, even if those who left went away in search of better lives.
This film also has a distinctly Breton theme since it describes changes in society and technology which came to Western France much later than it did to the big cities.
And perhaps there is also an invitation to think about the future. How will life change over the next 50 years? What does the future hold for us and how will our values change? Are our relationships improving, are we building bridges in the community or are we going towards a time when people are more and more distant. These are questions for us, our leaders and our teachers; what are the values that we hold dear and want to promote and where will we invest in the development of our society.