The pleasure of watching a focused countryside docu, handsomely shot on 35mm, is somewhat compromised by slips into reality-TV territory in helmer Samuel Collardey’s debut, “The Apprentice.” Story of a 15-year-old who becomes a farmer’s apprentice for a year benefits enormously from the warm-hearted farmer’s sympathetic, nurturing guidance, but Collardey throws in a couple scenes that tip the scales into voyeurism. Winner of the Critics’ Week prize in Venice, the pic will do best on Euro cable, though smaller fests may pave the way.
Young Mathieu Bulle comes from a working-class broken home, his anxieties masked by the usual boyish traits of incommunicativeness and easy boredom. He’s apprenticed to Paul Barbier, an animal farmer in France’s east-central Haut-Doubs region whose style of mentoring goes beyond mere farmhand chores. Collardey paces the docu across the seasons, provoking conversations to further the narrative. The experiment works, but a scene of Mathieu’s mother, Martine, sobbing on her bed is unnecessarily intrusive, while exchanged intimacies between Mathieu and his g.f. feel prurient. Still, beautiful compositions and striking natural light give the whole a bucolic glow.