THE APPRENTICE (L'APPRENTI
France, 2008, 85 minutes, Colour.
The Apprentice is a French film about rural life. It focuses in a docudrama style on a young man, Mathieu Bulle, who is dissatisfied with his school work, is urged by his family to become an apprentice to a farmer. It is a different lifestyle. However, he adapts, is helped by the farmer, Paul Barbier, who acts as a surrogate father, helping him, training him, correcting him.
The film is interesting in its detailed look at farming life in 21st century France, the technology, the style of farming, the economic repercussions – as well as the hard work, the character-building, the values of this kind of apprenticeship. The film won several awards at the Venice film festival in 2008, and was screened in the international critics’ week.
1.A blend of documentary and fiction? Effective? Inviting the audience into a world? The audience learning?
2.The realism: the people, their lives, the farm, school, home, countryside, the slaughter of the pig, the cows, the birth of the calf, hard work? The background score? The songs, especially for Mathieu?
3.The title, the focus on Mathieu, his age and learning? His apprenticeship to work, to life?
4.The introduction to Mathieu, in the bus, patting the horses, arriving at the farm, working with the farmer, the cattle (and later his trying to control them)? The jobs, listening to the farmer and the poem about autumn, helping his daughter? The importance of the week’s assessment and the farmer’s decisions, asking Mathieu questions? The difference at home, his clashes with his mother, criticising her? The absent father? Whether he would visit him or not? At school, the boys, horsing around in the showers, the dormitory? The classes, his skilful explanation of genetics and costs, the maths class, his failing the exam? His anger? Yet his hopes? With his friends at the pool, meals, their sex talk?
5.The farmer, his background story, hopes for life, disappointments? His wife, his daughter and the humanity of the lesson? With the cows on the road, the slaughter of the pig, making hay, fixing the tools, Mathieu and his criticism? Christmas, the celebrations, the shopping, the presents? Mathieu and the tree, sharing with the family? The farmer talking to Mathieu, the walk on the mountain, Mathieu confiding about his father? Building the sled, the joy of the rides in the snow? The farmer providing a father figure, yet not intruding?
6.The glimpse of Mathieu’s father, at work, no conversation, talking with his son, his future, the visits?
7.Mathieu and time passing, the school and the discussion with the principal and his violence, the failure in the exam, his mother’s support – yet her work in the factory, her size, eating, weeping in her room? The effect of the farmer and his role-modelling for Mathieu? The influence? His stories, sharing? Life with the family? The exuberance of Mathieu with the work, working hard, the hay and feeding the cattle, his singing?
8.The blend of joy, hardships, maturity and immaturity, growth? Mathieu’s final song and hope?