MUBI is exclusively showing Marine de Contes's The Game (2018) as part of a collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center for their Art of the Real showcase of innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking. The film is showing May 9 – June7, 2019 in many countries around the world.
In this film, I immerse you in the lives of hunters of wood pigeon, in the forest of the Landes de Gascogne, in the south-west of France. We discover the woods in a singular way. Delving into the atmosphere of the birdsong-saturated forest, we are initially transported by the immensity of the landscape. Then strange sounds mingle with the rustle of trees. We prick up our ears and listen to the forest, becoming like hunters ourselves and in the position of the watchman, we wait. We are on the lookout, with infinite patience, waiting for something to happen.
Before making this film, I knew the forest of the Landes, its twilight, its smell of tree resin, its majestic pines that sway gently in the wind, its silence populated by birdsong and its vibrant colors... but I did not know anything about hunting. So, during a video workshop in the Landes, the young participants told me about the local practice of catching birds with a net. They showed me a "palombière," a hunting cabin camouflaged on the ground by pine needles and ferns, and surrounded by tunnels several hundred meters in all directions. Intrigued by this unexpected construction, resembling both a war shelter and a playhouse, I decided to come back during the hunting season in the fall to learn more about this ancestral practice.
In this labyrinthine space, with its complex devices of lures, the birds that go up and down among the hoisting of cables and pulleys, this forest that had previously always seemed peaceful and serene during my walks suddenly revealed itself as mysterious and distressing.
I wanted to place the spectator in the same conditions: ignorant, curious, and eager, ready to live a sensory experience, to be carried away by the particular relationship that these men have with the fauna and the landscape that surrounds them. So I modeled my shooting approach on the strategy of hunters: observe, approach, and capture specific moments.
While this approach is cinematographic, it also seeks to decode a practice in the manner of an ethnographic film. Indeed, this family hunt has everything of a rite, transmitted from generation to generation. It raises the issue of the tension between tradition and modernity.
This type of hunt, out of time and obsolete, seems a little absurd because hunters deploy a disproportionate amount of energy compared to their meager catches. They end up eating their prey, but hunting is not necessary for them to survive. Yet the hunters do not give up. They spend two months in their hut scrutinizing the sky, hoping to capture live birds in their nets, or failing that, to shoot a few. But perhaps there are other issues within this isolated space in the middle of the forest.
In this remote corner of the French countryside, in this zone described by geographers as "hyper-rural," men have preserved a language, Occitan Gascon, a notion of time, a close and an immediate relationship to the environment that is handed down from father to son, but is destined for extinction. This is because the law of profitability is disfiguring the landscape. The cutting down of large swaths of pines poses the risk of modifying the ecosystem. The hunters' playground disappears little by little and the wood pigeons change their migratory corridors. I made this film in part to leave a trace of this microcosm. We no longer know who exactly is the prey of the system.