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I, Pierre Rivière
cast: Claude Hebert, Joseph Leportier, Jacqueline Millière, and Antoine Bourseiller

director: René Allio

125 minutes (15) 1976
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
The full title of this film is Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgè ma mère, ma soeur et ma frère... (I, Pierre Rivière, having slaughtered my mother, my sister and my brother...). That isn't a spoiler, even if this film was based on fact. The setting is Normandy in 1835, and the film begins with the discovery of the corpses of the three members of the Rivière family. Pierre (Claude Hebert), the killer, has fled into the woods. After his capture, he wrote a lengthy account (hence the title), intended to explain his actions. He is then put on trial for his life. Is he guilty or is he insane?

The Rivière case is a famous one in French legal history. In 1973, the philosopher Michel Foucault compiled a book on the case, including several contemporary accounts and witness statements, including Rivière's. René Allio's film followed three years later. It is a deliberately documentary-style reconstruction, using non-actors and with much of it derived from transcripts.

As the trial progresses, Rivière tells a story of a dysfunctional family: of a father who worked all hours to support a spendthrift wife who amassed greater and greater debt and who humiliated him in public. He claims that the murder was to protect the family's reputation from his mother's activities, and from the sister and brother who sided with her. The question remains if Rivière was simply mentally alienated, a psychopath or a misogynist. We hear the opinions of psychiatrists of the time, but by the end of the film none of them has come up with a satisfactory answer. It is left for us to decide for ourselves. The film is long, and slow-paced, but it does reward your patience.

In 2007, the film's assistant director Nicolas Philibert (who had in between made a big impression with his documentary about a French primary school, Etre et avoir) made Back To Normandy. This was a look back at the making of the film after 30 years, including interviews with surviving cast members. I, Pierre Rivière... was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for cinema release, so inevitably the DVD transfer is very grainy. There's also occasional print damage, excusable in a film of its age. The transfer is in the ratio of 1.66:1, anamorphically enhanced, and the soundtrack is the original mono. The dialogue is in French with optional English subtitles. The DVD is encoded for all regions. The only disc extra is A propos de Pierre Rivière, a making-of documentary from the time, presented in 4:3 and running nearly 25 minutes.

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