CÉVENNES

TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY IN THE CEVENNES

By Benoit RAZY

PLUS DE PROD - as PROD

Road movie - Development 2017

Historical road movie; it tells of Stevenson's discovery journey. Yet it's also long distance love story with the woman who was later to become his wife, Fanny. Stevensons faces numerous hardships on this journey, reminding us that crossing the Cévennes in 1878 could be a dangerous adventure.

    • Year of production
    • 2017
    • Genres
    • Road movie, Action/Adventure, First film
    • Countries
    • FRANCE
    • Languages
    • FRENCH
    • Budget
    • 1 - 3 M$
    • Duration
    • 90 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Benoit RAZY
    • Writer(s)
    • Benoit RAZY, Hugh STODDART, Xavier MAUMEJEAN
    • Producer(s)
    • Jérémie CHEVRET (Plus de Prod)
    • Synopsis
    • Scotland, 1860, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years old, runs out the house. He runs until he’s out of breath, in the rain, happy to have escaped the oppressive atmosphere of his family, it’s as bad as the illness that hurts his lungs. His imagination is freed, he tells a story to himself, words tumble from the mouth of the future writer. But there’s a search party organised, he’s forced home to face his mystified parents.
      Twenty years later, in Monastier (a town in the mountains of Velay in France) Louis is a broken man. Illness devours him, he’s drinking too much, he’s passing his time firing a revolver and thinking about Fanny. She’s American, his lover, but her husband has insisted she go back to San Francisco. Fever and alcohol send Louis into delirium. Antoine, a young engineer, takes a liking to him, looks after him, a true friend – who then discovers Louis’s crazy plan: to cross the Cévennes.
      For a man so ill prepared, this is a foolhardy enterprise. The Cévennes is beautiful but wild; someone could lose their mind there, even their life. But such a journey will make possible a book Louis plans about the region and the history of the Camisards, Protestant rebels, and it will help him at least to forget his torments. Antoine decides to help him.
      Getting better, Louis gets to know local people: they all hear about his mad plan.
      Lacemakers try to dissuade this young man who is both polite and attractive but whose health is so fragile. Louis will not be deflected. He has a strange bag made that will serve both for luggage and sleeping. His father would have called it a “dream-catcher” – he seems to be at Louis’s side, an emanation from the past. Antoine draws him a map and advises he buy a donkey to carry his gear. Louis names her Modestine.
      The day of departure dawns and the writer clearly has far more than is strictly necessary.
      As soon as it’s been piled on Modestine than the whole lot falls to the ground. But in the end it’s time for farewells and he sets out with Modestine on paths beside the River Gazeille.
      Things go wrong in no time at all: the donkey goes at such a slow pace, Louis is in despair and resorts to hitting her, trying to make her speed up – with little success; people he meets are full of advice that is contradictory and disastrous. In the end, Louis decides to lighten her load.
      Louis cannot forget Fanny. He imagines her, with her children Belle and Lloyd, in San Francisco – there is Sam embracing his family. The children show off their drawings and paintings they’ve made in Europe. Fanny is shut out of all this happiness.
      Finally, laboriously, man and beast reach their first stopping place, a strange inn in Bouchet St Nicholas. The couple who run it set him a kind of test: he must hold their interest by telling a story. Louis passes with flying colours and the innkeeper rewards him with a sharp stick.
      Louis uses this on Modestine, as directed, but he’s soon aware of his cruelty and throws it away. He’s suffering too, tormented by fever and blood is showing sometimes on his handkerchief. He is preyed on by visions that derive as much from his imagination as from the delirium triggered by his illness.
      He reaches the edge of Gevaudan where “the Beast” is believed to have killed many people – possibly mythic, but the memory remains fresh. He’s irascible himself and in turn finds nothing but hostility. Exhaustion and other problems take their toll. He finally has recourse to sleeping outdoors – in the middle of a storm – using his bag. He dreams about Fanny who’s very depressed and cannot sleep. He, on the other hand, finds peace on this
      first night in the open air. In the morning he can breathe more easily.
      Despite having a map, Louis becomes completely lost in the mountains. He is furious with Modestine who keeps wanting to change direction, but in the end he lets himself be guided, and she finds the right way. A kind of understanding grows between man and animal.
      Louis arrives, spent, at his next stopping place. Here two railway engineers recognise him as belonging to the dynasty of famous Scottish lighthouse builders and find fault with his ambition to become a writer. But he finds support from an old man who approves of his wish to go his own way and teaches him how to lead Modestine without violence.
      Louis was raised a Protestant but he has lost his faith. Arriving at the monastery Our Lady of the Snows, though distrustful, he finds a community of monks who are open-minded, active people who offer him food and shelter. He finds the peace he needs to write. They give him medication that eases his coughing and fever. Sadly, though, there is a priest who
      is bigoted and attacks him: Louis leaves soon after.
      In the Chassezac ravine, Louis wants to take a short-cut. Modestine stubbornly refuses to take it but he insists and nearly sends them both into the void. Louis then swears to Modestine that from now on he will always listen to her.
      Then there’s another stopover in the open air. Louis finds a soothing sleep, but he has a grotesque dream where Fanny’s life has become a melodramatic piece of theatre. He sees her writing a sort of appeal for help. Her husband tears up the letter.
      At Pont de Montvert, in the heart of protestant Cevennes, Louis meets those descended from the Camisards. He also has an unexpected encounter – with Clarisse. She’s a young waitress who is a Fanny lookalike. She’s Louis’s age and an attraction is sparked between them. In a moment of madness, they go off together – but Clarisse soon realises that Louis
      is ill and is seeing somebody else embodied in her. Frightened by a night full of crisis, she leaves him; a brutal separation due to misunderstanding.
      Stricken by illness and exhaustion, the remainder of Louis’s journey as a test of endurance, until he reaches the Corniche of Cévennes, the final leg of his journey.
      Arriving at St Jean du Gard, the writer finds a letter from Fanny waiting at the post office.
      She tells him she is ready to leave her husband for him. Louis ends his journey by horsepulled coach. “I’ve sold my donkey,” he tells another passenger who mishears the word âne as ame. “Your soul?”
      At the end of the story, Fanny tells us of her marriage to Louis and how they went to live in Samoa, where Louis died aged 44. The people there called him Tusitala, “the teller of stories.”
    • Partners & financing
    • France 3 Cinéma (completed)
      Région Rhône-Alpes (completed)
      Aide au développement, CNC (completed)
      Région Languedoc-Roussillon (in demand)
      Rhône-Alpes Cinéma (in demand)
      Canal + (in demand)
      OCS (in demand)
      SOFICA (in demand)
    • Beginning of shooting
    • Sep 01, 2014
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