On Nov. 8, 1930, Paris lawyer and amateur cineaste Gerard Fleury went walking to look for the right light to complete his film shot around the lake in the Normandy village of Le Thuit. He was never heard from again. The home movie he shot three months earlier shows his family and household staff at Thuit Chateau. The summery footage of them walking around the grounds, playing croquet and tennis has been scratched and damaged by water during the years since it was shot, causing great variations in the image quality.
Catalan director Jose Luis Guerin sets up a convincing hoax. He intercuts the “original” with what appears to be additional, superior-condition B&W footage on the same locations, and then adds color scenes that scrutinize what was taking place around the people while Fleury’s film was being shot. As the interplay between past and present increases, the film becomes more intriguing, but also more repetitive.
Guerin’s prime fascinations here include the play of light, reflections, natural filters and the elements. Water, wind and rain are involved to great effect in creating an illusion of the spectral presence of people and events from the past. Renoiresque poetic simplicity runs through the images, such as boys’ ties flapping in the breeze, Fleury’s daughter on a garden swing or Fleury himself rowing out onto the mist-covered lake where he is last seen.