Maurice Pialat – La maison des bois (1971)

Made in 1971 for French TV, the epic LA MAISON DES BOIS
comes from early in the Pialat’s belated
feature-filmmaking career. Rather like Loach’s DAYS OF
HOPE (Cinémathèque 2004) or Edgar Reisz’s HEIMAT
series, it begins in costume drama and an ethnographic
view of rural French life during World War One, and in
an apparently sentimental tale of war orphans. But
then it irises out from costume drama conventions into
the transcendental, exploring Pialat*s spiritual
themes, as well as the social dynamics, trauma and
collective experiences of war.

Compared by critics to Jean Renoir and Ken Loach,
French director-actor Maurice Pialat is now recognised
as one of world cinema’s profoundly humanists
filmmakers. Pialat was born into the same filmmaking
generation as Nouvelle Vague icons Godard and
Truffaut, or the “Left Bank” filmmaking movement’s
Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. But having trained as a
director of observational documentary, Pialat turned
away from the intellectual play and cinephillia of his
peers. Instead, in landmark films such as POLICE
(1985), the Cannes-winning SOUS LE SOLEIL DE SATAN
(1987) and VAN GOGH (1991) he evolved a style that’s
may become contemporary cinema’s most influential: a
cinema of naturalism, spiritual passion and
instinctive social engagement.

Rarely seen outside of France (and rarely in the 16mm
film format on which it was originally shot) LA MAISON
DES BOIS has been rediscovered by critics and audiences
as a key film by one of the cinema’s greats.

“… it is the one film that best allows the viewer to
penetrate into Maurice Pialat’s universe. LA MAISON DES
BOIS… combines profound naturalism and a strange
sense of fantasy… “, Joel Magny, Cahiers du

The story overlaps in many ways with Pialat’s previous film, L’enfance nue, to the point where it’s easy to assume that Pialat was tapping the same autobiographical well for both projects. Maison, however, is looser and more expansive than usual for Pialat, and consequently more direct about his concerns. While there’s a great deal of detail in any Pialat work, here detail is the raison d’etre: the film often feels like a comprehensive catalog of what the director finds interesting to look at.

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