Cinéma du Réel 2022 review: Didier’s Letters (Noëlle Pujol)

“Pujol sparingly crafts a microcosm emerging from her brother’s letters, a world in which the skeleton of communication is laid bare, and where feelings, however unattainable they may be to our minds, take hold.”

Surrounded by trees, in the middle of a pasture, one man and one woman start reciting out loud the contents of some printed letters they hold in their hands. Like actors performing exercises on pronunciation, breath, and intonation, they go through the sentences, half-singing them, sometimes decorating them with the sound of a flute. A very ornamental reading takes place and adorns some seemingly simple letters that Didier, director Noëlle Pujol’s brother, has sent her throughout the years. Didier’s Letters acts as a way to deconstruct this simplicity and find the depths within.

The letters are written in a French apparently unstained with the constraints of grammatical rules. They are, simply put, a form of spoken dialogue put into writing. Didier states and restates his love for his sister, and how much he misses her while he is living in another city. What could be a simple exposure of the letters and the way they reflect on the siblings’ relationship becomes, with the device used by Pujol, an exploration of the way language conveys thoughts and feelings. The device is the performance of the letters by two actors whose task it is to rarify the letters, generating a movement through which they are detached from their meaning, to then be re-assembled in a playful manner. It’s a device similar to what Denis Côté did last year in Social Hygiene, using humor to highlight the absurdity of the conventions we take for granted when speaking.

Prancing around, jumping around railway tracks, almost always outside, on the move, these actors inhabit a childlike text, highlighting the purity and unabashedness of accepting and expressing feelings as they come. We never hear an answer from Noëlle to Didier, but this re-working of the letters is enough to understand the deep esteem she holds for his words and the way he expresses them. Some viewers may grow tired of the repetition of the exercise through the film’s short 66-minute runtime, but Pujol is insisting that we, as she did, pay close attention to a series of writings that might otherwise escape our thoughts altogether.

Attention is also paid to the bodies of the actors. As they do not simply stand or sit down to recite the texts, we see their bodies moving, inflecting each word with the particularities of their movements. The flattening of discourse that takes place when ideas are written down is counteracted by an almost literal blowing-up of words, as they explode and are sung and screamed to the wind. There is a rhythm to language, and the way the actors find rhythm in Didier’s letters is also a testament to the power of performing. Pujol sparingly crafts a microcosm emerging from her brother’s letters, a world in which the skeleton of communication is laid bare, and where feelings, however unattainable they may be to our minds, take hold.

Didier's Letters (Noëlle Pujol)