Whether it’s on display in an art gallery or depicted on a cinema screen, nudity can be both natural and confronting.
Imagine your reaction if you were asked to pose nude along with everyone in your community for a photograph by a celebrated photographer. You’d never look at your neighbour in the same way again.
That’s exactly the situation that an entire community finds itself in the small Normandy town of Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe in Philippe Le Guay’s Normandy Nude.
Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe is populated by diverse characters from the outspoken, popular mayor Balbuzard to the uptight, conservative pharmacist, Ferol.
The one thing they have in common is the community’s role as food producers and their interdependence on the trade surrounding the town’s farming heritage.
The film tackles national and global issues such as the plight of primary food producers against the onslaught of competition that forces farmers to sell their produce at marginal prices, which saves consumers at the checkout but shackles farmers to a subsistence existence. Normandy Nude concentrates those issues through the filter of small-town life in Normandy.
When prominent American photographer Newman, renowned for his nude photographs of massed humans, decides that a paddock near Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe is the perfect spot for his next photograph of 200 nude residents, Balbuzard sees an opportunity to bring the town’s plight as farmers to a national and international audience.
You’ve probably guessed his main obstacle—convincing the entire town to disrobe and bare their all to save their town. Balbuzard’s intentions are altruistic, but the townspeople wonder how they will be able to go about their daily business once they have seen each other naked.
Against this central concern, we are also privy to the personal tragedies, friendships, enmities and triumphs that have confronted the residents throughout their lives in this small community.
Tensions also arise between the townspeople and eccentric photographer Newman, whose only concern is taking his photo. The residents are only a means for his ends. He views the shops and their owners as curiosities. He frames them in his camera but doesn’t look away from the camera’s lens to see the actual people.
Normandy Nude is a lightweight film that carries a heartfelt message. In case you’re wondering: yes, there will be limited scenes of nudity but that’s not the film’s main concern. Normandy Nude is not about the nudity. It is a low-key story about individuality, unity and a sense of community.