Lozère, France experiences such deadly winters that the word “blizzard” in their regional dialect has come to mean “a bewilderment of the soul.” Storms here have connotation beyond the steady fall of snow and bitter winds. People who walked out into the blizzards were seldom ever seen again. St. Alban’s, a nearby asylum for the mentally-ill, stands in a constant reminder of this.
In his gripping avant-garde style, Belgian documentarist Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd interweaves the druidic mythos of the shepherds, who live in Lozère, with the tangible loss this area has experienced since the beginning of the modern era.
Call to the Lost
The film primarily follows a young shepherdess leading her flock through the frozen countryside. She whispers to us the traditions of the Lozère shepherds. As if the trauma of the modern era has reverted them back to mysticism, she explains to us that Lozère sheep wear bells to call back The Lost. “Take care to tune the song of your flock for the lost,” says the Shepherdess.
This loose, catch-all term refers not just to those lost in bitter winter storms, but to the men lost in the Second World War and the insane who have withered away in the local asylum. Floating in an out of focus on the shepherdess, we see the faces of those still alive in Lozère. They read us the names of the war dead and the insane as if to invoke their spirits.
*Note this film is in French with English subtitles
September 9, 2017, 6:15 BST
Piccadilly, London W1D 7DH, United Kingdom
Photos provided by Open City Documentary Festival
Pacing the Graveyard
In the icy wasteland captured in this film, it is hard to remember that we are in France – in a place that is supposed to be part of the First World. It seems unlikely that such a country could have 3,000 mental patients perish without a trace in a period of a hundred years. Buried in mostly unmarked graves, this is how the term “The Lost” originated.
In this graveyard, we meet some of the current inmates of the asylum. They pace about mumbling and listing the names of those buried beneath their feet. Just as those living in town repeat the names of those lost in war.
By the end, we are not sure who is truly mad and who is merely haunted by the ghosts of The Lost. FOR THE LOST is this author’s favorite of the three Vandeweerd documentaries features at the 7th edition of the Open City Documentary Festival. It’s a perfect match for those interested in myth and European History. Though it does not rely on hard facts and figures, this documentary gives us a snapshot of the daily lives of those who live in regions of Europe which time forgot.