You know me. I’m not one to drop names to impress, but my mate Indra, the TV and film director (puffs out chest and clears throat), has jetted in from London to stay here for some high-level talks about a film project.
We both speak reasonable French and both love that kind of uniquely French comedy of manners where characters gather at, say, a big house in the country to talk and be witty and philosophical and generally (for a brief moment) to put right the wrongs of society. Things like Jean Renoir’s wonderful Les Règles du Jeu and Louis Malle’s charming Milou en Mai.
We don’t necessarily hope to create a carbon copy for modern times, but want to make something in a similar spirit that speaks to humanity of the zeitgeist (puffs out chest and clears throat again). And since the French still think enough of their indigenous film industry to grant it funds, we figure that we could, with a decent script and a degree of chutzpah, go berets in hand to the holders of the regional purse and ask, very nicely if you please, for some dosh. Or Le Dosh, as it may come to be known in time.
We got down to work on Toots’ Day after much beating around the bush and were promptly side-tracked by the New Zealand/Sri Lanka cricket world cup match. Nevertheless, we mapped out an idea by lunchtime, after which I took Indra out for a tour of le coin. This might sound to the cynical amongst you like yet more displacement activity, but the idea was to get a feel for the milieu in which the characters will operate while continuing to talk and to develop the story.
Alf loves nothing more than a sortie, even if it involves sitting in the boot of the Berlingo, watching the road recede. We went first to Curemonte, just across the frontier in the Corrèze, l’un des plus beaux villages de France. I’d say that roughly 50% of the houses are lived in all the year round, while the other 50% are holiday homes. Yet there was no one abroad. A small dog yapped at us from behind the closed front door of the café; otherwise we had the distinct impression of visiting a village abandoned in mysterious circumstances. In the covered market place, there was an exhibition of stills from a film that was made here in the ‘90s. Perhaps the German storm troopers had returned to spirit away the populace.
I took my friend to see the village’s two privately owned monumental chateaux, like medieval twin towers within a walled garden that sits above the village like some land-bound liner. A Parisian couple own (and have restored) these chateaux: a retired English teacher and her convivial red-nosed husband. When in residence, they organise cultural events and last summer we went to see Milou en Mai projected onto a massive screen set up between two trees. Ominous storm clouds on the horizon, with utmost consideration, shed not their watery load until the film had ended.
From Curemonte we drove to the market town of Meyssac. On our first trip here in 1988, Debs and I passed through Meyssac in her old soft-top Beetle. One look at the medieval buildings built of the blood-red local sandstone and I knew that we were entering a truly special territory. We visited my favourite boulangerie to buy some of the rye bread in which they specialise and a tarte aux pommes for dinner. Then we dropped in to a nice unspoilt Bar Tabac that goes by the name of Chez Gilles for two pick-me-ups and more high-level discussion. Gilles himself is a gruff but friendly proprietor who blends well with a gruff but friendly clientele that took kindly to Alfredo, my faithful dog. ‘C’est un bon chien…’ ‘Oui, c’est un très bon chien.’
|Part of the Viscount's territory|
From Meyssac we drove a kilometre west to Collonges la Rouge, the original plus beau village de France and one of the most visited sites in the whole of France. Even in March there was a coach load of oldies assembled by the post office to listen to the guide explaining how the stone got its unique colour (iron oxide, I gather). In truth, it’s a bit of a museum, but there’s undoubtedly something stunning and unique about the place.
The last leg of the tour was Turenne: the spectacular granite village that snakes its way around and up an outcrop of rock, on top of which sits a ruined castle that once belonged to the influential Viscomtes de Turenne. It seems like a 1 in 3 gradient and we reflected on how the permanent residents manage when laden down with shopping bags from E.Leclerc.
At the top you get a different perspective on the same landscape that we survey from our house. This was the Viscomte’s térritoire, almost as far as the eye can see. Now it’s the Lot/Corrèze borderland. Maybe one day it’ll feature in an Anglo-French production of a film directed by Indra Bhose, conceived during three wet days on the dog’s meadow at La Poujade Basse.