French Film Director Jacques Perrin Loves Rowing

In the December 2010 issue of the French rowing magazine Ramer, published by the French Rowing Federation, Paul Miquel interviews Jacques Perrin, the director of Oceans, a sea-life documentary released in 2009. In 2004, he was one of the producers of the French film The Chorus. HTBS’s Hélène Rémond has translated the article and gives us some personal pieces of it in English. Enjoy!

In the interview, Jacques Perrin explains his passion for rowing. As a young boy, he lived in the suburbs of Paris, close to the river Seine, where there were two rowing clubs: Le Rowing Club (“the club for the rich people”) and the Société Nautique de la Basse Seine (“the club for the working-class people”). Ten years after World War II, the sport of rowing means one thing for him – freedom. “It was fantastic”, he says.

Perrin was attracted to the beauty of the boats. Seeing the rowers glide on the water got his imagination going. He first had a go at it at Basse Seine as a cox. In the mid-1950s, the coxed four was composed of Villain, Prudhon, Le Bihan, and Nicolo, and they were actually the Champions of France, in the youth class. He later rowed with Pierre Netto (his long-time friend, who let me use the photo of them) in a double scull. He remembers the Coach, Mr. Clergerie, at the time when Jean Séphériades was active. (The latter won the Diamonds Sculls at Henley in 1946, against the American John Kelly Jr.) Clergerie used to say, “Hear the boat sing” in his megaphone, to make their boat go faster. This is an expression full of poetry and very true, according to Jacques Perrin. It’s a beautiful expression, indeed. He knows how important it is to follow a harmonious movement, while hearing the blades “ring” as they grip the water.

I wonder if he has read The Boat Race by Gordon Ross, whose admiration for the rowers made him write, in 1956, “having learnt to concentrate and coordinate mind and muscle, and together to generate a power so controlled that the effort appears effortless, making the boat sing as she goes […]” and who also referred to the ringing of the blades!

Jacques Perrin explains that in 1955 and 1956, it was a real pleasure to row on the Seine. There were also barges from which people swam in the river. His first travels date back from the time when he was a cox. He travelled thanks to rowing. He visited Mâcon, Lucerne, in Switzerland, and Ostend, in Belgium. For him, travelling is linked to rowing, as his discovery of the world started in a rowing boat. Solidarity and brotherhood are strongly mirrored in rowing according to him.

He thinks that very rarely do TV programmes successfully recreate what rowers feel in a boat, and as a director, he has an idea about a rowing sequence he would film, with a “powerful, elegant, and noble boat” set in an idyllic place, like in Lucerne, where the emerald green riverside appeals to him. To film, he would love to be in the middle of the perspectives to recreate different images that would render the tremendous effort put in by the rowers. People don’t know much about rowing because it’s not given much media coverage. The 69-year old film director says he would show the beauty of it, the melody of the movement. “Yes, I’m going to do a film about rowing. […] It will be a 10-minute symphony, like a concert”. It’s a funny coincidence again, since Gordon Ross referred to “the blades echoing as a masterpiece of music”.

Merci à l’accueil de Galatée Films et à Pierre Netto pour son autorisation à utiliser la photo!

And thank you, Hélène, for sharing this with the readers of HTBS.

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