It is not to much to say that Jean Rouch, filmmaker and anthropologist, made films that are still avant-garde. Based at the Musee de L’Homme in Paris he was inspired by surrealism, inspired the the French New Wave and developed the French Cinema Verite in parallel with the American Direct Cinema and Observational Documentary. But unlike the American movements, Rouch explored the fuzzy boundaries between Truth and Fiction. Exploring the communicative power of metaphor, he seemed more interested in making films that communicate the lives of the people he worked with than being a disciple of scientific method, social science or anthropology.
Here in “Portrait de Raymond Depardon” Rouch explores a question that is both technical and aesthetic: What is the body with a camera and how does it see? Perhaps after Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto it is possible to frame these questions as posthumanist. But not in the 1980s when this film was made. As a student of documentary history the connection to Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Oki (camera eyes) is astute. Rouch almost never presents complex ideas linearly, teacherly. Instead he explores artistically, allowing viewers to come back time and again, digging deeper and deeper into each piece.
Not only does Rouch explore the question of Kino-Oki, but plays with reality within fiction by using a location for the film with an artist who had filmed a scene in this very space. Exploring it together with the camera, thinking about the camera, thinking about the person behind the camera and showing the viewer how the perspective changes as the camera operator, who is more than just an operator of a machine, who is now a cinematic eye and ear, appreciates and explores a subject. Here we bear witness to a powerful relationship between cine-eyes, the knowable object, and you the viewer. Rouch knows you are there with him, even though he can not connect with you, he none-the-less is still reaching out to you. Do you feel it?