On The Wandering Paths Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Denis Imbert
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Anny Duperey, Izia Higelin, Jonathan Zaccai, Josephine Japy.
This tale of redemption is based on the writings of French travel writer and adventurer Sylvain Tesson, who was the central focus of the 2022 documentary The Velvet Queen, which depicted his search for the elusive Tibetan snow leopard.
In 2014 Tesson fell from a balcony after a night of heavy drinking and was severely injured. He lay in a coma, but after waking up he decided to try and heal himself by walking 1300kms across France, from Mercantour in Provence to the shores at Cotentin, via many little-known and forgotten and at times treacherous walking trails. This despite the advice of his doctor and closest friends and family. He documented the journey and his existential thoughts in a notebook, and it is these writings that formed the basis for his novel Sur les chemins noirs, which in turn have inspired this film. Jean Dujardin (who won an Oscar for his performance in The Artist) plays a writer and adventurer named Pierre, a thinly disguised fictional version of Tesson. As Pierre walks he reflects back on his own life and questions the meaning of life. He also draws comfort and strength from the natural beauty of the landscape as well as from the kindness of strangers he encounters on the journey. The journey is also one of healing for him and his broken body. But he also experiences a way of life in the rural areas of France that is slowly disappearing.
This is the third feature film for director Denis Imbert (Mystere, etc), and his leisurely pacing gives the audience plenty of time to soak up the often rugged scenery which has been beautifully captured by cinematographer Magali Silvestre de Sacy. Pierre’s journey is interspersed with number of flashback sequences that show the audience details of Pierre’s earlier life and the accident. Not a lot happens here and dialogue is scarce, but Dujardin gives voice to Pierre’s introspective musings and he conveys a lot through his movements and expressions. The film benefits from Dujardin’s solid presence in the fairly physical role of Pierre. But while his character initially isn’t a particularly likeable one, the long walk and the chance to reconnect with nature seem to tame his rough edges and give him some semblance of peace.