Pipe (Michel Robin) has worked on the same farm for forty of his 66 years of living. Now he is in his “salad” years, and in retirement is free to explore the world in ways he never did before. He buys a small motorcycle with the help of an Italian migrant laborer and begins touring the countryside. Formerly somewhat docile, he gets into scrapes and fights, and eventually loses his cycle. Nonetheless, he has a chance to see the Alps from the sky. He has always wanted to see these legendary mountains, and is disappointed to realize that they are just big piles of rock.
It’s entirely possible to admire the precision of Yves Yersin’s ”Les Petites Fugues” without responding to the film in any more heartfelt way. More than possible, it’s likely. This sedate, longish Swiss film concentrates on a middle-class country household where lives are changing. The father may soon pass the farm on to his son. The daughter may begin a joyless affair with an Italian farmhand. The mother is highly responsive to everyone else’s troubles. Many of these threads are woven together at mealtimes, as the family members dine in silence and exchange weighty glances.
The principal focus of ”Les Petites Fugues,” which opens today at the Cinema Studio, is Pipe (Michel Robin), an elderly farmhand who until the start of the story has led a drab life. As the film begins, Pipe receives a new moped, and later he goes for a series of liberating rides. He also charters a plane to look at the top of the Matterhorn, which has heretofore existed for him only as a poster in his lonely bedroom. Later on, Pipe wins an instant camera at a fair he visits, and uses the camera to take snapshots of everyone at the farm. Mr. Yersin devotes considerable time to the quiet spectacle of Pipe arranging these photographs in neat patterns on his wall.
Les Petites Fugues” seems both serious and tidy, but it lacks a spark that might inspire curiosity. It has been very handsomely photographed by Robert Alazraki, but there isn’t much about the clean, crisp style of the cinematography to amplify the action. The players all move purposefully through scenes that remain cool and unyielding, and that have been assembled according to a logic that is elusive. A shot of a forest, or of a garden, or of a pile of hay or a woman preparing dinner, will seem to exist quite independent of the rest of the film, almost as a footnote. As practiced by Mr. Yersin, there is evidently nothing casual or careless about this kind of exposition. But neither is there anything powerfully inviting.
by Janet Maslin, New York Times, 20.07.180
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