Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert wasn’t on our initial list of villages to see during our scouting trip and we decided to pay it a visit on the recommendation of French producers Mickael Bec and Migde Valazquez of Purple Papaya Films. Only thirty or so kilometers northwest of Montpellier and the Mediterranean to the south, the trip was well worth the taking. Owing its name to a French knight of the medieval period, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert became an important place of pilgrimage in southern France, as Guilhem endowed the village’s abbey with a relic of the True Cross, given to him by Charlemagne. This 11th Century church has been recently restored and its interior was the most breathtaking of all the sanctuaries I visited in France.
The village square is compact and authentic. More than a tourist destination, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is a working village and on the morning we arrived I found myself taking pictures, or trying to, of its few local inhabitants, including one of a woman who was airing out her sheets from a second floor balcony. The monasterial influence here is prevalent and one gets the feeling that life still centers around the church, which fits an aspect of the story of our film quite well. The life of the monastery thrived until the French Revolution and in the 19th Century the abbey was vandalized and fragments of its buildings are found scattered all over the region, even as far away as the Cloisters museum, north of New York City. I found a certain sadness in this history that still seems to permeate the village, although it’s more than on the mend.
I think there would be little trouble shooting a film here, from a logistics point of view. Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is close enough to a large city and easy to get to, and there’s definitely something about it that puts it high on the charm meter. With a population fewer than 250 and its old houses made of amber stone, surrounded by cliffs, verdant with thyme, oak and pine trees, and sprawling organically along the Verdus stream, I would seriously consider it a viable shooting location for The Camera.