The Dairy Garden
A film by Marc Weymuller
Production : Le Tempestaire / Les Petites Caméras
I am not bound to succeed,
but I am bound to live by the light that I have.
I must stand with anybody that stands right,
and stand with him while he is right ...
Nestled at the foot of the Breton town of Fougères, in the heart of its historic district, the Nazart dairy has thrived for over half a century in an island of greenery. It was a family business where the quality of human relations and the pleasure of working together always took precedence over the personal interests of the bosses. Unfortunately, this model is doomed to disappear. The company went into receivership in 2005.
Many years have passed since then, yet every Wednesday, former employees of the dairy continue to get together to tend the vegetable garden that once supplied their company canteen. The ties that bind them disintegrate more slowly than the buildings. Memories remain. Everyone remembers what happened. Together, fragment by fragment, they piece together the story of their company's demise, precipitated by hidden financial interests.
Buoyed by a shared memory that endures, they meet again, season after season, and take comfort in this place open to the miracle of life, where everyone can express their deep need for humanity, on the bangs of the fast-moving world. The dairy has closed, but the human adventure continues. You can't erase a lifetime of work like that.
Camera and Sound
Xavier Arpino - Marc Weymuller
Gérard Fourel - Nazart Family Archive
Original compositions by Philippe Saucourt and Héloïse Lecomte
“Clair de Lune” de Claude Debussy - Performances : Maurice Blanchy (Accordion) - Bruno Fleutelot (Vibraphone) - Héloïse Lecomte (Cello) - Nicolas Marguet (French Horn) - Philippe Saucourt (Banjo, Ukulele, Guitar)
“La Encantadora” by Ignacio Cervantes / “Habanera Tú” by Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes / “Hava Nagila”, Hassidic Traditional
Performance : François Fortanier (Clarinet and Saxophone)
Les Petites Caméras / Le Tempestaire
Absinte Abramovici - Benoit Keller - Laure Saint Hillier - Marc Weymuller
Direction, Editing, Color corrections and Mixing
39th Rencontres Cinéma de Gindou 2023 (France)
A family business, emblematic of a time when life and work were more mixed.
Founded in the thirties, the Nazart dairy grew rapidly during the "trente glorieuses". Up to one hundred and fifty people worked there every day. For over fifty years, it was a bubbling beehive where a white river of milk from the farms of the Fougères region flowed daily to be transformed into cheeses, yoghurts, caseins and caseinates. Every day, in the narrow streets of the neighborhood, it was the same uninterrupted string of trucks loaded with cans that threaded their way to the dairy.
It was a family business, emblematic of an era when life and work were more mixed. It was run by the Nazart family, in a humanist spirit in which the interests of the company and its employees always took precedence over those of the managers, who sought above all to maintain a working tool they felt was necessary to the life of the community.
In the sixties and seventies, the frantic increase in milk volumes forced the company to constantly create and manufacture new products, without the possibility of expanding, given its enclosed location in the lower town. Then came the introduction of milk quotas, followed by price liberalization, market pressures from supermarkets, unbridled competition, wars of influence and consolidation among dairies. Against this backdrop of conflict, the dairy industry resisted peacefully, always showing its independence and defending small producers as much as it could.
A hasty disappearance
Its demise was cynically orchestrated by the banks, in agreement with a number of influential trade unions. The aim was to put pressure on the region's independent producers, dampen their ambitions and allow the international leader in the dairy industry to reap all the benefits. Deprived of cash overnight, Laiterie Nazart was forced to file for bankruptcy six months later. It was declared bankrupt in 2005.
As if time had suddenly stopped
That was over fifteen years ago. And yet, today, although the dairy buildings have been emptied of their industrial equipment and no activity takes place there any more, the scenery is still there. Time just seems to have stood still. The large mansion that once housed the Nazarts' offices and family home gives the impression that everything has come to a standstill. Everything is still in place, files still hanging in metal cupboards, white coats hanging from coat racks. In the bedrooms upstairs, the beds are still made, a few children's toys are lying around and portraits of ancestors hang on the walls, silently watching over the calm of the household. Everything is there, furniture and objects alike. All that's missing are the people: the Nazart family and the dairy staff.
A garden of refuge
Alongside her brother Jean, Hélène Nazart was the last manager of the dairy. Having no children of her own, she devoted her entire life to the dairy. When the company went into liquidation, she refused to leave. It was unimaginable for her to consider a future elsewhere. For her, leaving meant dying. So she stayed on, trying to rebuild her life, in the secrecy of her house, which is separated from the old dairy workshops only by a magnificent wooded plot housing an abundant garden, both orchard and kitchen garden. It once fed the Nazart family and the dairy's canteen.
Today, it still boasts a wide variety of vegetables, fruit trees, flowers and ornamental plants. With the help of a beekeeper friend, Hélène Nazart even keeps a few beehives. It was this garden that gave her the strength to get back on track. Season after season, it reminded her of the enduring power of nature, calling her back to life, far from the savagery and brutality of the economic world.
An ongoing human adventure
Today, Olivier, a former Emmaüs companion, is in charge of its upkeep. A free and marginal man, he is passionate about horticulture. He's also a survivor of life's struggles, who has found in this garden a refuge from which he has made a kingdom.
Every Wednesday, former employees of the dairy come to lend a hand. They've been doing it since the dairy closed, in other words for over fifteen years. Together, they plant lettuces, dig potatoes and harvest beans. They also meet up in the garden whenever necessary to carry out the bigger jobs, such as pruning fruit trees or harvesting apples. They're happy to be working together again. After work, they gather around the table that Hélène Nazart has set in front of her home, with the garden as their only horizon.
An act of resistance
In their conversations, past and present mingle quickly. It's a life of work they've shared together, and that life endures. For them, the garden is first and foremost a place where they can come together and feel alive among others. It's also a refuge, a benevolent place where everyone can recharge their batteries, on the bangs of the world and the passage of time.
Their determination to continue to meet, so many years after the closure of their business, is a powerful act of resistance. To the devastating power of economic and financial logic, where the strongest and the most greedy always win, to the detriment of nature, the most humane and the most generous, they oppose a beautiful and invincible humanity, connected to the living.
This film is first and foremost an invitation to discover this garden and the people who run it. It takes place within the confines of this space, close to the buildings of the former dairy and Hélène Nazart's house. It follows the evolution of the seasons and their effects on nature, accompanies the activities - planting, pruning, harvesting, meals, moments of rest and contemplation - and meets the people who work there.
Everyone remembers what happened. The dairy buildings may have been cleared out, but they worked there all their lives, and their memories won't disappear any time soon. You can put an end to a business and destroy a working tool. But you can't just wipe out a lifetime of work. A collective memory has been built up among them, and it lives on. The stories of some are added to those of others, complementing each other and gradually piecing together the story of the company and its demise.
The garden is there to soothe the torment caused by their memories. There, they catch their breath and regain the strength to face the reality of a world in which they know they are forced to continue living, waiting for something to change one day. And it's by connecting to the present of the garden, by renewing the link with the other former employees, that they manage to pick up the thread of their story.
At a time when the failure of a system that is increasingly leading to the depletion of natural and human resources is constantly being revealed, they, like all of us, have no other way out than to embark on the search for a new contract with nature and with others, in a rediscovered harmony with the living.
What they think about it...
"Marc Weymuller was a guest at this year's 39th Rencontres Cinéma de Gindou. He presented "Le Jardin de la Laiterie" (The Dairy Garden), a strong, complex film with a very fine approach. His beautifully written film presents us with the memory of a place, through a process of dissociation of word and image that has nothing to do with process. But it is a testament to the suppleness of the device used, in its attentive apprehension of the testimony, outside the stress of the heavy mechanics of cinema.
Formally magnificent, the film is politically astute, taking as its subject the evocation of a "trouble-free", conflict-free company, whose leader was, horresco referens, fair and admired. For it's not in the boss/employee relationship that the class conflict is to be found, but in the decision taken by the bank's Parisian management to shoot down this management policy geared to employee satisfaction.
However, we'll only see the deserted remains of the object of the crime, the long-dormant dairy, but also the immense garden, half pleasure ground, half kitchen garden, which former employees and managers have gently reappropriated. As they explore the garden over the course of seasons, jobs and days, it's the collective reappropriation of a space and the revolutionary significance (a word that's never uttered) of this gesture that acts as a metaphor for the complex, but always attentive and benevolent, relationships that already prevailed at the dairy. What would it be like today for a manager to refuse to be called lazy by his foremen, and simply tell them to find a job that suits everyone? This collective reappropriation of the garden, which was open to all even in the days of the factory (including local children who played right into the workshops!), is just the continuation of this incongruous relationship with work, where toil was not synonymous with alienation, but with a task accomplished.
This is where Marc Weymuller's work is of the utmost finesse. Shattering the accepted shackles of naïve leftism, he uses the quiet antithesis of working-class memory to deliver a merciless critique of the transformation of work and neoliberalism. If you're looking for a Manichean vision of the capital/labour relationship, you'll be disappointed. Not all workers are revolutionaries, just as the peasants of Larzac were Catholics and voted right-wing. But everyone, on the other hand, is sensitive to injustice, and knows how to appreciate its opposite at its true value. At the Nazart dairy, all employees appreciated the fact that they could carry out their work to the best of their ability, and receive what they felt was their fair remuneration. "In summer, we often worked more than eight hours, and overtime was paid. In the off-season, we often worked seven hours. And we were paid eight." Yes, not everyone is Che Guevara, but we learn from the images that an undocumented Iranian finds temporary refuge here. For it is silently, in the doing together, that the community of resistance is created, in its own way.
It's this delicate, complex process that Marc Weymuller films with intense finesse, far from the well-trodden audiovisual highways whose deceptively protective paths he has left behind. In return, he gives us an insight and a listening ear from which there is much to learn and even more to discover".
Gilles Cervera in Histoires Ordinaires