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Jean Dréville (1906-1997)

Director of some forty feature films (La Cage aux Rossignols, La Ferme du Pendu, Copie Conforme, Normandie Niemen, La Fayette, …),  Jean Dréville experienced in his youth, between the ages of twenty and twenty-five, an intense period of creativity as photographer, graphic artist, founder and publisher of magazines on photography and the cinema (to which he contributed many reviews, photographs, and graphics) and also as cameraman and documentary film director. He was a friend of avant-gardists such as Louis Deluc, Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein and Jean Grémillon, and developed a cinematic-photographic language situated between Pictorialism and Constructivism. Two of his modernist photographs figure among the twenty-four selected by Pierre Bost for his book Photographies modernes (Librairie des arts décoratifs, Calavas, 1930), along with those of Joris Ivens, András Kertesz, Germaine Krull, Eli Lotar, Roger Parry, Emmanuel Sougez, Maurice Tabard.

He made his first film, Autour de l’argent, at the age of just twenty-three. It was the very first "making-of" in the history of cinema, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the production of Marcel L'Herbier's 1929 film L’Argent. The same year, he travelled to Holland to make a documentary on farm life, Quand les épis se courbent (When the ears of corn bend over), a work which echos the writings of Nicolas Bouvier and the films of Raymond Depardon.

In June 1991, at his home in Vallangoujard, Jean Dréville observed:

There are films that one manages to save from destruction or oblivion thanks to modern restoration techniques, films that one puts together almost miraculously from patiently accumulated fragments, from copies of diverse origins, from internegatives in foreign-language versions .... and films that have never been recovered and of which there remain only the furtive memory of a spectator or the fleeting trace of an article, a poster, a photograph.

From ”Épis se courbent", there remains a fairly complete series of photographs, enlargements that I made at the time from scraps of negatives! The theme: a sort of walk, or rather a poetic vision of the Dutch countryside. The film started in Paris. We left the city,  taking the train for Holland. After traversing the flat countryside, with its traditional landscapes of canals and windmills, we arrived at the farm where we were going to spend the summer. It was the period when the corn finishes ripening. We would be witness to the everyday work on the farm, the harvest, the ploughing, ... It took me six months to make this rather short film. I was practically alone during the entire filming, and time was not a factor, which is paradoxical in a trade where everything costs so much. I was able to devote all my time to exploring the potentialities of the new Agfa film. I would sometimes look through the view-finder and say to myself: "That cloud is not in the right position, I'll come back tomorrow!"

It should be mentioned that this film was only the second documentary ever made on panchromatic film.