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(Very Important Périgourdin of the Pôle International de la Préhistoire)

He waved with a smile that concealed the tears in his eyes, as resplendent as if he had just completed the Tour de France. This was Gilbert Pémendrant, 75 years of age, farmer and owner of Bernifal Cave, before the crowd who had come to applaud him. The grand and brand new auditorium in the Prehistory Welcome Center in Les Eyzies was “jam-packed”. Lézamidal, five musicians from the folk music band in Alles-sur-Dordogne, greeted the crowd to the sound of the flute, the cabrette (little goat) and the tambourine. We were indeed in “Oc Country”, aboard this ultra-modern craft where, as they had promised us, prehistory “comes to life”. This preview of LE DERNIER PAYSAN PREHISTORIEN, the documentary produced by Ferrassie TV, was there to prove it: a portrayal of the man who is straight as a die, honesty itself. A film that takes you from “up on top” to “down below”… back and forth from calves suckled by their mothers to where cave bears once wallowed… from bison engraved in the Age of the Reindeer to tame birds who have descended from the treetops to inhabit the aptly named “basse-cour” (“the yard below”), i.e. “farmyard” in English.
Yes, the French cock used to be a wild pheasant from Asia: the Bankiva cock which was able to fly and nested in the trees… well, mainly the females. But there you go… for the birds, just like for us, times have changed - fast as lightning. From those not-so-distant yesteryears when people lived off the land with its vines, its chestnuts, its cèpes, the sorrel, the black salsifies and the dandelions, by some odd quirk in time there remains, in 2011… Gilbert Pémendrant. That Sunday with Gilbert in the limelight will go down in our memories as a dream from the past. In his presence time stood still; joy and emotion spread through the auditorum, almost overwhelming us. We will let Jean Bonnefon, the well-known journalist and merry minstrel, tell us in his own words just what happened on that special Sunday, April 3 at the P.I.P. on the occasion of the very first showing of Sophie Cattoire’s film: LE DERNIER PAYSAN PREHISTORIEN.

A man… A film

By Jean Bonnefon

The last farmer-cum-prehistorian is this man: Gilbert Pémendrant. On this Sunday, April 3 he is out in all his finery… in his “Sunday best”. A wee bit shy, a little bit uncomfortable. Standing next to him, Sophie Cattoire has everything under control. She mothers him fondly… because she is the one who is responsible for all this commotion. Gilbert can’t get over it all. Everybody is there for him. Or rather for the film that has been made about him, by Sophie. He is intimidated; she is confident. She has patiently filmed Gilbert on his farm at La Fuste in the Vallée des Beunes in the Périgord Noir and also – and above all – in his Bernifal cave. Because Gilbert is a farmer and also a prehistorian. An amateur prehistorian in the most loving sense of the term… and today it is their encounter that is being shown on the screen at the Pôle International de la Préhistoire. So it isn’t surprising for Gilbert to feel intimidated and for Sophie to be reassured: the auditorium is packed. They have had to turn people away, promising them a second screening on April 24. The crowd are a mixed bunch in this glass, steel and concrete craft: an eminently contemporary edifice that blends beautifully into the several–thousand-year-old site in Les Eyzies. There are “Périgourdins” from every walk of life: farmers, scientists, old folk, young folk, kids, artists, mothers, parents with their young children, grandpas in their Sunday best like Gilbert, young fashion-plates: the Périgord in all its diversity. SILENCE…

Sophie’s camera is subjective. She walks in the farmyard, with the hens, the dogs… She is on the tractor that Gilbert will park by the rock shelter where, since prehistoric times, generations of peasants before him must have kept their tools. These men have a natural instinct over which the passage of time has no hold. Then Gilbert walks up to his cave, just as if he was going down to the cellar to get a good bottle of wine. But hey! This vintage is sumptuous! Right there before our eyes mammoths, bison, ibexes and other animals from our far-distant past come towards Gilbert, the shepherd of Bernifal. The voice that is guiding us has the same accent as ours… he is one of us. We have all been along the road at the bottom. How many of us have been into the cave? Today we are made to feel as if we are special guests… special because Sophie brings us so close to her subject. Without intruding, she introduces us into Gilbert’s private world. As they chat together we can sense the affection she has for him… and so Gilbert trusts her and he starts to open up. He talks about his love for the cave, his passion for prehistory… he tells us how proud he is of being the guardian of this temple. We can tell how happy he is to welcome Norbert Aujoulat, the well-known prehistorian, who brings his students from Bordeaux every year to meet Gilbert and visit his cave. He tells us how concerned he is about this society which controls everything to excess and which isn’t the slightest bit concerned about a seventy-six year old farmer and prehistorian living in the depths of the Périgord who has to keep on working to be able to lead a simple life on his land. The film pulls at our heartstrings… we can actually feel the silence at Bernifal. We can almost smell the soup that Gilbert is preparing for Sophie… and we want to go and sniff the hay and the cows on the farm. The film music is a traditional mazurka. A blissful feeling sweeps over us.

Then the lights come on… Gilbert and Sophie get a huge round of applause. We now know that in this mad world we live in, somewhere in the Vallée des Beunes, there exists a place that is undefiled and protected… with an unpretentious, honest man there looking after it. Gilbert Pémendrant is indeed the last farmer-cum-prehistorian.

All our thanks to Sophie Cattoire for having presented him to us.

Jean Bonnefon

Photos : Vincent Lesbros & Jacques Saraben.

The event is also recounted in the article written by Jacques Saraben, painter and photographer: “See with your Heart”


version française version occitane version anglaise Translation into English : Valérie Saraben
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