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Suzanne Daveau review – intimate, sparkling portrait of an astonishing career

The vibrant 97-year-old geographer sparkles as she discusses love, life and her groundbreaking research

Luisa Homem’s documentary portrait of 97-year-old geographer Suzanne Daveau has the intimacy of family stories being passed down from one generation to the next. Guided by the scholar’s vibrant recollections of her astonishing career, the mix of archival photos and Homem’s new 8mm footage shot in the locations studied by Daveau has the feel of a mid-century travelogue.

In this film, images of bustling Paris, the deserts of Africa, and the verdant plains of Portugal freely intermingle, creating a visual topography of Daveau’s personal and scientific adventures. A child of the second world war, Daveau enjoyed her childhood in the French capital but she also longed for the mysteries of nature. It was an intellectual and spiritual passion that brought her as a graduate student in a male-dominated field to Africa, where she researched pastoral terrain in the semi-arid Sahelian Mauritania during the 1950s. Gruelling but rewarding, her academic work also led her to the love of her life, the Portuguese geographer Orlando Ribeiro. Together, the pair would go on to produce monumental work on the geography of Portugal.

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