Darragh O’Donoghue, Retour en Normandie, Senses of Cinema, Issue 60, October 2011.
….It is no coincidence that with Retour en Normandie (Return to Normandy) Philibert should abandon his seemingly “objective” direct cinema approach to produce his most formally complex and self-reflexive film to date.
Moi, Pierre Rivière is a docudrama based on a dossier compiled by historian Michel Foucault and his research team at the Collège de France (5). On 3 June 1835, 20-year-old farmhand Pierre Rivière murdered his pregnant mother, sister and brother and went into hiding in the Normandy countryside. Before he was caught, judicial and doctors’ reports, examinations and certificates, witness statements, letters and newspaper articles suggested that Rivière was mentally defective, prone to scaring children, shrinking from women, torturing birds and animals, devising elaborate weapons and generally living in an unhealthy, private, fantasy world. In prison, he was permitted to write an account of his actions and motives; far from demonstrating inarticulate idiocy, the manuscript was recognised at once for its singular sensibility, and has become a classic of French prose. It is one of the earliest texts of peasant self-consciousness, a detailed social history of mid-19th century Normandy, and a systematic account of individual, social and familial dysfunction. Far from “explaining” the murders, however, the manuscript was used and interpreted by opposing sides to determine the extent of Rivière’s guilt, in particular those involved in the burgeoning psychiatric profession, at a time when doctors were competing with judges to determine criminals’ responsibilities for their actions.