Cannes: after football ... the revolution?
Making the convulsive portrayal of an area on the outskirts of Paris, Ladj Ly's "The Miserables" will be one of the great events of Cannes / 2019: there is a critical realism that still marks a lot of European cinema.
Even the less enthusiastic of Mali-born French Ladj Ly's Les Miserables will recognize that we are facing a film that will stand as one of the strongest titles of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. Your energy, as well as the disturbance that surrounds you, begins in the amazing opening scene. We see the central characters, a group of young people from the Montfermeil area, watching the 2018 Football World Cup final (France, 4 - Croatia, 2) and then joining the celebrations on the Champs Elysées. When there is a general plan of the crowd with the Arc de Triomphe in the background (image reproduced here), the title of the film overlaps the image: "Les Misérables".
Rudimentary question: are the "wretched" ones who thus celebrated a high point in French football? Whether or not you like Ladj Ly's film (and I confess, from now on, my great admiration), you should not give in to such simplistic readings. It is first about recognizing their affiliation with a viscerally French narrative heritage.
In other words: Ladj Ly summons the tutelary reference of Vitor Hugo's novel The Miserables (published in 1862), incidentally cited in a final caption, to stage the experiences of a space on the outskirts of Paris where characters from various geographical and cultural origins, in an unstable balance always accompanied by some police units.
The film is not an "abstract" thesis about troubled neighborhoods, because, in a gesture of healthy cinephilia, it starts by calling a convention of the French policeman (and also of Hollywood). Thus, we follow the daily routine of a patrol of two policemen that now integrates a third element: the novice lives a learning experience of the many forms of tension that cross that zone, would be said to be a kind of "documentary fiction" that allows the viewer to feel the fragile frontier that separates harmony and violence.
Vitor Hugo's inspiration thus serves to account for the "wretches" who, in one way or another, live a daily life of survival to which no descriptive Manichaeism can be applied: "good" and "evil" cannot they present themselves as transparent and obvious entities. Really interested in the contradictory complexity of his characters, not reducing them to universal "symbols", Ladj Ly achieves a film that, furthermore, revalues a genuine realist spirit, which is nowadays in the midst of many European cinematographies (and not only).
The same can be said of On Va Tout Péter, an achievement by an American, Lech Kowalski, but linked to specifically French themes. This is an unusual documentary work, born of the follow-up of the workers' struggle of the GM & amp; S automotive component factory, threatened with closure, due in large part to the drop in orders from the Peugeot and Renault groups.
Without ever simplifying the turbulence inherent in such a complex labor, economic and political crisis, the film has an energy alien to any normative bent. In his voice-over, Kowalski speculates about the possible imminence of a revolutionary situation, precisely because such a hypothesis stems from the workers' discourse of resistance (the film's title is an expression written at the factory entrance and literally means "Let's get rid of it." all").
What is France like in the midst of football's dizziness and the breakdown of classic production structures? Neither The Miserables, nor On Va Tout Péter, are films with political "recipes," because they pervade the bitter sense of bankruptcy of many forms of political intervention that attempt to respond and respond to crises that tear the social body (perversely, Emmanuel Macron himself emerges as the movie's unwary "character", briefly responding to journalists who question him about the situation at the GM & S factory.
In a film festival capable of integrating such varied and stimulating objects, it is important to underline this contagious vitality of films that call us to the difficulty of detecting and understanding the cracks of our time (European, above all). For this reason, it is not possible to forget the discreet and sublime Être Vivant et le Savoir, by the French veteran Alain Cavalier (Cannes Jury Prize 1986, with Thérèse, a portrait of Saint Teresa de Lisieux). Using an "amateur" camcorder again, as happened, for example, in Irène (2009), Cavalier evokes the end times of writer Emmanuèle Bernheim (1955-2017), exposing a radical intimacy that reminds us of all. political acts pass through the intrinsic truth of human relations - as the title says, it is "being alive and knowing".