Jean-Marie Barbe is a native of Lussas, a picturesque village in the middle of France. His love of documentaries leads to him to start an ambitious streaming service called Tënk in his hometown. He refers to his small staff as the "dreamers." The local farmers, however, are a bit unsure what the dream means for their community.
The Grocer's Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World examines a disconnect between the worlds of farming and filmmaking in Lussas while finding similarities in their struggles.
Director Claire Simon contrasts the rural and urban lifestyles with scenes of Barbe selling the service to cautious investors juxtaposed with farmers picking grapes from vines. A tense, moody score is paired with establishing shots of the quiet village square. These long cuts create a sense of dissonance, but Simon centers both perspectives and highlights both of their challenges.
The Tënk team has trouble securing money to launch the streaming site and pay off the construction of its new headquarters. Barbe's dedication to preserving documentary filmmaking as a pure art form often puts him at odds with his less optimistic staff. One early disagreement over a trailer's presentation causes the project manager to leave her position. But as the film shows, through Barbe's enthusiasm and friendliness with both professionals and locals, his passion is the key to Tënk's survival.
A similar love is mirrored by the residents of Lussas. The farmers hang onto their traditional way of life through a changing economy and ever-present machinery. One farmer named Patrice comments on the fragility of farming, how a small shift in weather can destroy all the crops. (In a post-show Q&A, Simon says Patrice recently lost his crops due to frost.) Their indifference with Tënk isn't out of malice, but because they're often working too much to get involved. And when a crowd of visitors arrives for a film festival, one villager jokingly calls it an "invasion."
The heart of The Grocer's Son comes from the attempts at connection. Barbe sends free movie tickets to the villagers and earnestly explains his project to them. In one scene, Barbe directly relates his love and respect for documentaries to the farmers' love and respect for their grapevines, and a mutual understanding visually clicks between them.
Simon's portrait of Lussas is charming and crafted with care. Barbe's infectious spirit embodies the resilience of the village; when questioned over the website's budget, he refers to the poor of Lussas always holding on through a difficult harvest season. The Grocer's Son doesn't hide anxieties but celebrates the universal passion that drives people forward.
The next screening of "The Grocer's Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World" is May 7 at 7:30 p.m.