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Originally published Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 2:48 PM

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Movie review

"Back to Normandy": A killer journey to the past

Northwest Film Forum is showing an outstanding double-feature: Nicolas Philibert's 2007 documentary "Back to Normandy" and René Allio's 1975 historical drama "I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother ... " The latter is about a triple murder in rural France that occurred in 1835. "Back to Normandy" revisits the earlier film's cast and locations 30 years later.

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Movie review 3.5 stars

"Back to Normandy," a 2007 documentary directed by Nicolas Philibert, and "I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother ... " a historical drama directed by René Allio. 113 minutes and 130 minutes respectively. Not rated; "Normandy" contains graphic footage of a pig slaughter. In French with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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If you watch a lot of DVD extras, you've probably seen retrospectives in which actors and filmmakers fondly recall collaborations from decades past. It's a safe bet that none of them have quite the same resonance as the documentary "Back to Normandy," in which French filmmaker Nicolas Philibert revisits the people and places he first met on a memorable film shoot in 1975.

Philibert was a first-time assistant director on René Allio's historical drama "I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother ... " adapted from Michel Foucault's detailed account of a triple murder committed by the titular Norman peasant in 1835. Rivière's trial was one of the first to employ psychiatry as a legal defense, and 140 years later, Allio cast authentic Norman farmers to play the main characters in his austere and still-powerful film.

This week, Northwest Film Forum is showing both "I, Pierre ... " and "Back to Normandy" as an outstanding double-feature.

It's a bit too convenient to credit Philibert's film with Proustian significance, but this particular remembrance has been constructed with similar profundity. Just as Allio's film pays rapt attention to the rhythms of rural life, Philibert (who also directed 2002's critically acclaimed "To Be and To Have") revisits the cast and locations of "I, Pierre ... " with keen sensitivity to the ways in which personal and geographical histories intertwine. He allows themes from the earlier film's 19th-century tragedy to echo, with equal substance, in the happier context of a 30-year reunion.

So, when the man who played Pierre's father recalls his own daughter's struggle with schizophrenia, the trials of mental illness run from past to present, along with the lasting impact that Allio's film had on those appeared in it. As for the fate of actor Claude Hébert, who played Pierre? That's a surprise that won't be spoiled here.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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