24 November 2023

Pierre (Jean Dujardin) in “Sur les chemins noirs”, by Denis Imbert.


On August 20, 2014, writer, explorer and rock climber Sylvain Tesson fell from the roof of a chalet in Chamonix (Haute-Savoie) after a very wet evening. Head trauma, multiple fractures, artificial coma… When he wakes up, he has to undergo rehabilitation which he quickly shortens to carry out himself, through a crazy project: cross France on foot, taking the diagonal of the void, Mercantour at the end of the Cotentin. No act of contrition or desire for redemption in this decision. Only the purpose “to mend a broken body”by staying away from ultra-connected urban areas, off the beaten track and from the din.

“I had to travel the world and fall from a roof to grasp that I had there, before my eyes, in a country so close whose folds I did not know, a network of country lanes open to mystery, bathed in pure silence, miraculously empty”we read in On the dark paths (Gallimard, 2016), taken from this expedition carried out from August 24 to November 8, 2015. It is this book that Denis Imbert comes to illustrate in images, in a feature film of the same name. With, in the title role and the skin of the writer, Jean Dujardin.

“Pure Silence”

In the film, his name is Pierre. Silent, unfriendly, solid build (and, in the post-traumatic context of Tesson’s fall, a bit implausible), he will be our guide. Throughout the adventure, we will follow his steps and each of his gazes turned towards the vast landscapes. Which, from Provence to the Cévennes, from the Massif Central to the Gâtine Tourangelle, from Champagne to Mayenne…, offer a superb catalog of panoramas.

Sometimes, Pierre shares a stretch of path with a companion planned for the program – friend Arnaud (Jonathan Zaccaï), his sister (Izïa Higelin) – or unexpected – a walker who decides to accompany him. The rest of the time, he advances and bivouacs alone; writing his thoughts in notebooks, part of the content of which is reported in voiceover.

Omnipresent, this one does not stop breaking this “pure silence” evoked by Tesson, and makes each sentence – detached from the flow of writing – a bit pompous. In the same way, the regular use of flashbacks (a party, a romantic encounter, the fall, the hospital bed, the breakup) has the unfortunate effect of breaking the (slow) rhythm of walking and fill the miraculous void of the paths mentioned by the author.

Read the interview: Article reserved for our subscribers Sylvain Tesson: “Walking is criticism in motion”

These formal choices, which come to thwart the subject, place the film in an indeterminate place from which, in the long run, we do not expect much more. Abandoned to this vagueness, the spectator sees himself deprived of this physical experience of loneliness and the exploit that Safy Nebbou had so well managed to stage in his film In the forests of Siberia (released in 2016), free adaptation of another expedition and another novel by Tesson.

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