I think now, more than ever, we’re more aware of looking at the intentions behind the creation of a piece of art. With Louisiana Story it might be a bit much to call this propaganda, but that designation may not be too far from the truth.
There’s no question that Louisiana Story is a beautifully shot piece of fiction whose languid pacing matches the setting of the Louisiana bayous. However, it feels like an awfully cynical look at the Cajun people who are depicted as simple folks in both senses of the words. Even if I didn’t know this was paid for ‘big oil’ to promote their drilling ventures, it all just feels too idyllic… especially now we know some of the environmental issues this drilling has been the cause of.
Also, there’s no real story to this film. We have a Cajun family (who cannot act) who make money from signing off part of their land to a drilling company, a alligator who ends up being killed because he supposedly a pet raccoon and the setting up (and, due to an explosion, the dismantling of) a drilling platform. All this with many a beautifully framed image of the swampland and the animals that live in there.
There’s some banter between the young boy and the workers… but it does feel like they’re taking the piss a bit and he has no idea what’s going on. It’s things like that which speak to this film feeling a bit tone deaf and makes me question how, in 1952, the BFI voted this one of the best 10 films ever made.
I think my problem with this goes back to what I felt about Flaherty’s most famous work: Nanook of the North. As a documentarian Flaherty knows what looks good on the screen, but the moment a narrative gets involved everything descends into a (sometimes cruel) stereotype. I guess it just needs to be said to take any Flaherty film with a massive tablespoon of salt.