An inspiring 1970s chapter from Gaul’s rural history is illuminated by docu “Leadersheep,” helmer Christian Rouad’s lovingly filmed and assembled sophomore effort. “Tous au Larzac,” as it’s less clumsily known in Francophone territories, explores the story of a traditional farming community in which Catholic conservatives united with countercultural radicals for a decade-long fight against the French government’s plan to extend an army training camp into the area. Pic will need strong critical support to entice large flocks, especially outside France. Further fest exposure plus upscale tube outings rep its best chance for a bountiful aud harvest.
The rural backwater of Larzac in the Dordogne stood aside from the radical ideas that took hold in Paris in 1968. But the community of 107 farms had its own political awakening, beginning in 1970, with news that the local army camp was planning a massive expansion. The families’ deep ties to their land would be severed in an enforced expropriation. But the farmers turned out to be surprisingly media-savvy when they took first their tractors, then their sheep, on a photogenic tour of French cities. Soon, Larzac’s bleakly pretty landscape became a magnet for every long-haired, bare-chested, free-loving radical ready for pastoral political adventure.
Talking-head interviews predominate, crisply filmed in sunlit rustic locations — poignantly so in the case of the grave of the protest’s leader, Guy Tarlier. The farmers who lived through these times, and became radicalized by them, certainly have an engaging story to tell, but “Leadersheep” would have benefited from even more archival footage depicting the extraordinary events. Lyrical inserts, featuring veils of mist wafting over fields and rocky outcrops, are sparse but effective, and are nicely complemented by Stephane Moucha’s pipe-heavy score.
Pic, which follows Rouaud’s earlier feature “The LIP Factor: Imagination in Power,” makes the telling point that, even in the 1970s, running water and full telephone-grid connection had yet to come to Larzac. Just like the student radicals they allied with, this was a community of outsiders that had little in common with the Paris political elite.
As the years ticked by, the account of the convoluted series of official reviews and negotiations risks bogging down the narrative over a lengthy-seeming two hours, but real-life events, including spying raids, arrests and incarceration, freshen the pace. A wider focus arrives as the farmers make common cause with other workers’ struggles, launch their own newspaper, and inspire the anti-globalization movement in France.