In On the wandering paths, Jean Dujardin takes the path less travelled

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Sylvian Tesson’s critically acclaimed novel Sur les chemins noirs (On the wandering paths) has been adapted into a film of the same name by Denis Imbert and Diastème. It’s been short-listed for Best International Feature by France’s Oscar nomination committee.

On the wandering paths

It tells the autobiographical story of a man who, after an accident is told he may never walk again. He then decides that instead of doing slow rehabilitation to build his strength and capacity, he will embark on a daring journey crossing France using the less-trodden paths (chemins noirs) covering 1300 km and treacherous terrain known as the Empty Diagonal (Diagnonale du vide) or the more politically correct Diagonal of low-density population (diagonal des faibles densités)).


Instead of naming the lead Sylvain, in On the wandering paths the film, the lead is named Pierre (played by Jean Dujardin (who is also in November at AFFFF this year). Otherwise, the film is true to Tesson’s word with Jean Dujardin voicing them making the film a wonderful way to discover the words of Tesson’s novel. Jean Dujardin is captivating and likeable in the role. We really felt for him – every time he would climb on unsteady terrain and look like he was going to slide, we would brace ourselves for the worst.


On the wandering paths is also a fantastic opportunity to indulge in a visual feast of the various landscapes of France without leaving your seat. Pierre sets off from the foot of Mercantour to Cotentin. That said the director intentionally set out not to make this a film which could be used by the Tourism Office, this is about Pierre in the wilderness.

On the wandering paths / Sur les chemins noirs

For the majority of the expedition, he is alone, except when briefly accompanied by his friend, Arnaud (Jonathan Zaccaï, who you may recognise from the series The Bureau) and a little later by his sister, Céline (Izïa Higelin, daughter of singer Jacques Higelin). They walk a while with him and then take the train or bus back to their usual life. Pierre continues on.


Flashbacks experienced by Pierre are interspersed with his time on the journey. These flashbacks are to his life before the accident or his time in hospital after the accident. Solitude provides moments of introspection and a journey within himself.


We haven’t read the book to know how closely the film’s story-telling follows it, but we appreciated that the film was not told in chronological order from accident to hospital to deciding to go on the walk to being on the expedition. We are left wondering what sort of accident Pierre had been in. It’s not set out from the start. Similarly, parts of Pierre’s injuries and losses are uncovered for the audience much as Pierre himself uncovers parts of himself throughout the journey.


Through Pierre’s trek, we are given snippets into daily life in largely abandoned French villages, where shops are either closed or for sale and if for sale, there are no interested buyers. In these villages, the butcher is also the post office and the corner store. It is presented as an observation of the reality without making judgement calls about who or what may be responsible.

© Thomas Goisque©2021-Radar Films-La Production Dujardin-TF1 Studio-Apollo Films Distribution-France 3 Cinéma-Auvergne Rhône Alpe Cinéma

It is quite a feat to keep an audience interested in a film showing a single character walking, eating, writing, and sleeping but the screenplay is so well written that we were kept engaged throughout. Pierre presents a wonderful example of surmounting what may seem to be impossible and encourages others to forge their own path. On the wandering paths is a slower film inviting introspection and admiration for the strength and perseverance of Pierre while showing the varied landscapes of France.


Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of the Alliance Française French Film Festival.

To find out when On the wandering paths is screening in your city, click here

UPDATE: The film has been short-listed by the French Oscar nomination committee for the Academy Awards.



WHAT: Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 (AFFFF 2023) – the 34th edition of the largest celebration of French film outside of France!


Sydney, NSW: 7th March to 5th April – Palace Central, Palace Verona, Palace Norton St, Chauvel Cinema, Hayden Orpheum Cremorne

Melbourne, VIC: 8th March to 5th April – Palace Cinema Como, Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Palace Westgarth, The Astor Theatre, The Kino, Pentridge Cinema

Perth, WA: 8th March to 5th April – Luna Leederville, Luna on SX, Windsor Cinema, Palace Raine Square, Camelot Outdoor Cinema

Canberra, ACT: 9th March to 5th April – Palace Electric Cinema

Hobart, TAS: 9th to 19th March – State Cinema

Brisbane, QLD: 15th March to 12th April – Palace James Street, Palace Barracks

Byron Bay, NSW: 16th March to 5th April – Palace Byron Bay

Adelaide, SA: 23rd March to 19th April – Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas, Palace Nova Prospect Cinemas

Port Pirie, Renmark, Whyalla, Mount Gambier: 24th March to 26th March – Northern Festival, Chaffey Theatre, Middleback Arts Centre, Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre

Gold Coast, QLD: 29th March to 16th April – Dendy Southport

Parramatta, NSW: 29th March to 2nd April – Riverside Theatre Parramatta

Victor Harbour, SA: 3rd and 10th April – Victa Cinema

Bendigo, VIC: 21st to 23rd April – Star Cinema

HOW: The full program of 39 films can be viewed at the official Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 website via this link:

HOW MUCH: Ticket prices vary between cities and there are also discounted festival passes available if you want to see several films. (NB You will need to pick the films and sessions when purchasing the pass)

See below for more AFFFF content

Our picks from the Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 program

Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 first 15 films announced

Country Cabaret: a fun farm film to see at AFFFF 2023

Final Cut: a comedic zombie film that’s even for people who don’t like horror or gore

Happy 50/Plancha is about a group vacation gone wrong

Jack Mimoun and the Secrets of Val Verde is a fun adventure

Paris Memories traces the difficulties of being a survivor of the Paris terrorist attacks

Ride Above is an inspiring, but predictable, film about finding the courage to ride again

Sugar and Stars: an inspiring tale about the road to sweet success

Silver Rockers: a film inspired by the story of rocker retirees from Normandy

The Colours of Fire: an heiress seeks revenge

The Origin of Evil is a must-see film this AFFFF

Which films won at the César 2023 and where you can watch them

To discover other events with French and francophone links happening in your city, check out our What’s on in April article.



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