Neither fiction nor documentary : Les Gestes de la Préhistoire
The unique nature of the audiovisual encyclopedia “Les Gestes de la Préhistoire” originates in the meeting of two prehistorians, Jean-Michel Geneste and Serge Maury and a director, Pascal Magontier. Attentive and respectful of everyone’s concerns, they developed an original approach to represent and transmit realities that have been gone for millennia. The result is a work, rare for its length - 99 films between 3 and 9 minutes each - which is also pioneering in its form because it does not use any of the archetypes specific to fiction films and television documentaries; or rather it accumulates them by inverting them.
As for the films “Les Gestes de la Préhistoire”, we could talk about perfectly rigorous fiction from a scientific point of view or scientific documentaries fully open to the imagination.
The films are built around technological experiments carried out since the 1980s by archaeologists. Their mastery allows today to accurately reproduce the gestures used to make and utilize tools and artistic objects that appeared during prehistoric times. Based on this technological knowledge, the central character of each film is not the archaeologist himself, but the object in the making. It allows the spectator, without any additional commentary – except perhaps at the very end of the films - to witness the creation of a prehistoric object that was until then known only as an artefact.
Deliberately, these films do not identify with a fictional character or even a journalist or a prehistorian. The staging must therefore directly immerse the spectators to guarantee their continued interest.
An original decor was created for each subject. The elements that make it up, housing structures, fireplaces, furniture, clothing, tools, etc. are meticulously reproduced and scientifically validated.
Even if they appear only in the background or are briefly glimpsed during camera movements, they contribute by their realism and attention to detail, to characterize a credible environment or habitat, depending on the period in which the object - subject of the film - appeared.
The light is also carefully thought out. Extremely precise, it highlights the materials being worked and the technical performance of the tools. When the action takes place indoors, the quality of the lighting, whose sources are apparent - fireplaces, vegetable torches, grease lamps - is particularly evocative of living conditions, meaning, without additional light, some scenes take place in semi-darkness.
The shooting angles are mostly at the height of the hands of the person working and reproduce for the most part the height of a person sitting, sometimes that of a child standing. The framing is designed to reduce the human presence to the symbolic scale of the hands that shape or use the prehistoric object.
Apart from a short commentary at the end of the film, the soundtrack is built exclusively from the synchronous sounds of organic and mineral materials being worked.
While giving the illusion of continuity, the editing, centered on the creation of an object, gives us clues based on observation allowing us to anticipate the transformation. Sometimes visual, sometimes audible responses are often delayed creating a suspense effect.
In none of these films do we see faces of prehistorians, but we are «in their heads», we share their mental images. In the absence of any physical mediator, we can directly access a living and intimate representation of prehistoric societies.