“Roxane”, my hen

With a peasant reciting verses in his henhouse, young director Mélanie Auffret’s debut film is a tenderly naive rural comedy.

They’re crazy, these Bretons. Raymond, for example, a farmer who talks to his chickens; more than talking to them, he reads to them, to thank them for having worked well, for laying eggs. What great texts, great plays, by Molière, by Edmond Rostand, he reads verses to them, and they listen to him, or pretend to, especially Roxane, his favourite, obviously named as the desire of “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

So she is the heroine of “Roxane” (released on June 12), a film by the young director Mélanie Auffret, spotted by a producer thanks to a short film entitled “Sois heureuse ma poule”. Logically, it is on the side of Corlay, in the Côtes d’Armor, where her grandparents were farmers, that she shot her first feature film. Not a dog, the hen agrees to share the poster with an actor, also from Brittany, the so nice Guillaume de Tonquédec who plays Raymond, a farmer who loves his animals and the theatre.

Raymond finds himself very destitute when the cooperative that was taking his production decides to stop buying his eggs at a good price, preferring those of a neighbouring competitor who does “intensive organic”. It is the announced bankruptcy, the forced sale of his expensive gallinacés. “We’ll find a solution”, assures his attentive wife (played by Léa Drucker), a brave woman of unfailing optimism, employed at the local branch of Crédit Agricole.

A dramatic situation aptly described

To save his farm, Raymond decides to “make the buzz”. Since he likes to declaim worms in secret, sitting on straw bales, his Roxane on his shoulder, with his laying hens raised in the open air for the sole public, he will put his casseroles on YouTube. There are many breeders who put music to their cows, why not poetry to their chickens. Helped by Wendy (Kate Duchêne), an English neighbour with whom he had a rather “tense” relationship until then, he works on his elocution, pencil in the mouth. Coached by the British Castafiore, Raymond records videos that he hopes will go viral, reciting great scenes live from the henhouse.

The distress of the peasant world, the young filmmaker Hubert Charuel had turned it into a powerful drama, “Petit paysan”, shot in Haute-Marne. At the other end of France, the even younger Mélanie Auffret made it a popular comedy, well rooted in today’s Brittany, full of local references (l’En avant de Guingamp, the Festival des Vieilles Charrues…). Of course, she doesn’t avoid a few clichés, the hooves sometimes sink a little heavily, but she has above all a lot of tenderness for her characters, and shows a world and people she knows.

As naive as this story of terroir is, it evokes with accuracy the current situation of agriculture and breeding, up to the attempted suicide of the brother-in-law (played Lionel Abelanski). And “Roxane” thus shows that one should not take hillbillies (the word is of Breton origin) for wild ducks.

Patrick TARDIT
“Roxane”, a film by Mélanie Auffret, starring Guillaume de Tonquédec and Léa Drucker (released on June 12).