Until well into the 20th century, orphans from all over France were given a home in the mountainous region of the Morvan where families were paid to take them in. That little-known piece of history was the inspiration behind Astrakan, the feature debut by director David Depesseville whose childhood friends and grandfather were orphans themselves. In the film's fictional contemporary story, 12-year-old Samuel is placed with Marie and Clément and their two teenage sons. Although his adoptive parents make no secret of needing the money, Samuel's new family does have something to hide. He is soon confronted with the contradictions of rural life. Between peace and violence, faith and superstition, innocence and the loss thereof. Caught in a maelstrom of confusing feelings, the boy deals with the turbulent past physically and mentally.
Make no mistake: Astrakan, which competed for the Golden Leopard at Locarno, is not a typical coming-of-age portrait, but sober and evocative character study with venom in its tail. David Depesseville spent seven years working on his first feature film, all the while collecting testimonies about what still remains a taboo subject for some. Their stories find a voice in the almost timeless nature of the film setting, enhanced by sparing use of set design and music. Depesseville proves himself a French cinephile at heart. By casting actors Paul Blain and Lisa Hérédia as grandparents, he harks back to the films of Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brisseau. Further sources of inspiration are Maurice Pialat's L'enfance nue (1968) and Jean Eustache's Mes petites amoureuses (1974). Like them, Depesseville finds raw poetry in the cruelty of human existence. Unflattering scenes are drawn by naturalism and captured on 16mm film. Nor does this bold debut shy away from nightmarish symbolism. Astrakan takes its title from the dark fur of caracul lambs. Their soft fur is obtained by cutting them out of their mother's belly even before natural birth. The black sheep as a blood sacrifice?
Mirko Giannini, Jehnny Beth, Bastien Bouillon
David Depesseville, Clara Bourreau
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