They live in the Appalachian heights of eastern Kentucky, and form a separate, somewhat autarkic population in the United States, considered haughty by the urban elite, who agree not to see in them than a band of backlash hurluberlus. They are called hillbillies, not very helpful term that one could translate by “bumpkin of the hills”. In XXe century, they were miners, extractors of coal, before industry turned its back on them to go and exploit other more profitable soils. Today, unemployment has taken over, with all its attendant ills. Many are gone, but some are determined to stay, like the Ritchie family, three generations on the hillside. They are the ones Diane Sara Bouzgarrou and Thomas Jenkoe, a French documentary duo, went to film for nearly seven years, drawing from this long-term relationship their first feature film. An inspired documentary that knows how to imbibe the part of dread that all ambivalent reality conceals.
Everyday scenes come together in bursts like floods of memories
The Last Hillbilly, “The last of the bumps” is Brian Ritchie, divorced father and poet in his spare time, on whose shady writings the film opens. One, prosodied on plans flying over the forest terrain, deploys a meditation on original sin, evoking the installation in these lands of Kentucky of the ancestors, the white pioneers, accomplished at the cost of blood, by the massacre of populations. native. The territory thus apprehended is inevitably haunted, overtaken by a curse that does not want to let go. The film does not bother with didacticism and introduces us to the Ritchie clan as the heart of a small autonomous galaxy ruled by a Saturnian mood. Everyday scenes – maintenance or repair work, visits, children’s trips to the river – come together in bursts like waves of memories. At the heart of a nature which has regained its rights over the vestiges of the industry, everything seems to nourish an expectation without an object, as if suspended between idle adults and children fighting against boredom. Not without looming, here and there, the omens of a foretold death, like the grave of a broke brother in his twenties or the corpse of a drowned calf recovered from the grandfather’s pond.
Astonishing exit from history
With his crossed straps, his shaved head and his slightly hunched postures, Brian drags a melancholy look around the area, contemplating from some height the massif with the peaks clipped by mining. His speeches, full of a sorry discernment, reveal under the tinsel of the redneck a sensitivity to the Cioran, and even the conscious political choice to remain on the side of the vanquished, on the wrong side of history. The intelligence of the character is to return the stigma that he and his people are afflicted with. This white and poor rurality that the cultivated elite accuses of all the evils, such as having had Donald Trump elected, Brian does not ignore his mistakes and disillusions, but accepts the history, which is that of a deception ( industrial extractivism which ultimately served only the interests of the powerful, not the inhabitants) and defeat. One night around a campfire, the man tries to instill in his three children what the world was like before the arrival of the Internet and the surge of screens: in three generations, we have forgotten how harsh it was hers, now deadened in a sort of severe and generalized boredom. A formidable character that one.
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