Review of Suzanne Daveau – intimate and sparkling portrait of an astonishing career | Film
LThe documentary portrait of Suzanne Daveau, a 97-year-old geographer, produced by uisa Homem, has the intimacy of family stories passed down from one generation to the next. Guided by the scholar’s vibrant memories of her astonishing career, the mix of archival photos and new 8mm footage of Homem shot in the locations Daveau studied has the feel of a mid-century travelogue. .
In this film, the images of bustling Paris, the deserts of Africa and the verdant plains of Portugal intertwine freely, creating a visual topography of Daveau’s personal and scientific adventures. A child of the Second World War, Daveau enjoys his childhood in the French capital but also aspires to the mysteries of nature. It was an intellectual and spiritual passion that brought her as a graduate student to a male-dominated field in Africa, where she researched the pastoral field in semi-arid Sahelian Mauritania in the 1950s. Grueling but rewarding, her academic work also led her to the love of her life, Portuguese geographer Orlando Ribeiro. Together, the duo will produce a monumental work on the geography of Portugal.
Discussing the training of a good geographer, Daveau speaks of the ability to juxtapose and connect seemingly disparate artifacts. This quality, however, is lacking in the film’s own editing, with little rhythm in the way the frames are strung together; the visuals end up functioning as a glorified slideshow of Daveau’s admittedly absorbing storytelling. Distracting musical interludes, where a series of photographs of places are presented without any accompanying information, are the opposite of what a geographer seeks to accomplish.
In the end, this documentary is carried by the personality of Daveau; the way her voice sparkles with the same enthusiasm when talking about her husband or her research shows that the pursuit of knowledge is not only cerebral but also emotional.