Recording the final harvest year on his aged parents’ wheat farm, Dutch film critic Jos de Putter quietly but stirringly venerates a disappearing way of life. Pastoral lyricism powered by authenticity, humanity and a direct line to its subject, “It’s Been a Lovely Day” is a riveting study in the purest documentary filmmaking tradition that merits extensive festival, cinematheque and public TV exposure.
Beginning on New Year’s Day 1992 and ending exactly one year later, de Putter takes in the day-to-day running of the property. His parents’ tacit acceptance of hard work in all weather and their pragmatic preparations for retirement are solemnly accentuated by the acknowledgement that the farm — a family-run concern for more than a century — has reached the end of its hereditary line.
Humor creeps in via the oldsters’ dry, sparsely worded exchanges on subjects ranging from changing times and work attitudes to fish that won’t bite, while something miraculously approaching drama emerges from seemingly inconsequential dilemmas such as how to work a newfangled ear-tagging device to number cattle for sale.
But the rich texture is less the result of what’s actively said or chronicled than what’s gently observed in a carefully juxtaposed parade of images that forms a simple yet acutely affecting mosaic. Nothing intrudes on the soulful picture of Arcadian toil, and despite the entirely unstated tenderness suffusing conversations between de Putter (who remains unseen) and his folks, there’s no trace of maudlin regret or reproach over the abandonment of cherished tradition.
Elegant, uncluttered camera work frames subjects from considerable distances in beautifully com-posed, sustained shots that function almost as a series of tableaux. When it does occur, movement of the camera is practically imperceptible. Sharply judged editing and pristine sound add further polish.
The film played theatrically and was televised in Holland, winning Rotterdam’s prize for best debut of 1993, and is being compared in both concept and achievement to Gallic documaker Georges Rouquier’s milestone “Farrebique” and its companion piece, “Biquefarre.”