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Un film dramatique

Un film dramatique

[…] Edited together by Chantal Akerman’s long-term collaborator Claire Atherton, what results in a time-lapse portrait of our changing world from a truly unique perspective. It is the freshest thing, with no imitation, reconfiguration or rehash.

[…] There’s no anticipation or vision of what the project might be, only a discovery that gradually unfolds before us. It is neither documentary nor fiction. Perhaps memoir, travelogue, diary film, or perhaps even dramedy? A dramatic film, of course.

Un film dramatique – by Éric Baudelaire, Anida Ait Abdesselam, Ambrine Belarbi, Andres Castro Henao, Assia Chaihab, Melinda Damis, Alyssa David, Dafa Diallo, Océane El Faqir, Sabou Fofana, Gaëtan Gichtenaere, Lina Ikhlef, Bintou Kamate, Guy-Yanis Kodjo, Ibrahima Konate, Basile Leignel, Gabriel-David Pop, Aissé Sacko, Rabyatou Saho, Mohammed Samassa, Fatimata Sarr, Manelle Zigh.

Yes, all these names form an integral part of a review of Un film dramatique, for in his latest feature artist-filmmaker Éric Baudelaire worked with twenty students at Dora Maar middle school in Saint-Denis over four years. Edited together by Chantal Akerman’s long-term collaborator Claire Atherton, what results in a time-lapse portrait of our changing world from a truly unique perspective. It is the freshest thing, with no imitation, reconfiguration or rehash. This is granted by the fact that the students bypass the very nature of being film students. There is no deference to the higher powers as taught in a traditional film school. Each individual shines.

It’s not a project, there’s little discussion or deliberation; they simply go straight into the act of filmmaking. This is essential. They use all the resources that are available: the school premises, their neighbourhood and their own homes. There’s no need to request permission from anybody. It’s radical. The resource they exploit most of all is their own curiosity and imagination. There’s no anticipation or vision of what the project might be, only a discovery that gradually unfolds before us. It is neither documentary nor fiction. Perhaps memoir, travelogue, diary film, or perhaps even dramedy? A dramatic film, of course.

The collaboration between Baudelaire, Atherton and the students, however, is unambiguously Marxist. It proves the power of artistic collectivisation through the chorus of free-wheeling voices who hold no deference to authority. Speaking after the film, Baudelaire said he insisted on looking horizontally, rather than vertically, at the students. There is no “pedagogy” involved; no instruction on how to frame, light or direct a shot.

Baudelaire’s trust in the students is palpable; he achieves this through wanting to learn himself. We see the dialogical nature of his method in 2015’s Letters to Max in which Maxim Gvinjia, a diplomat and one-time minister of foreign affairs in Abkhazia (a country orphaned by the USSR, unacknowledged as a country by most of the world’s nations), is co-author. Their epistolary correspondence juxtaposes words and images to question what exactly makes a country.

Premiering at Locarno, a festival overshadowed by Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela, I would make the bold statement of saying that I preferred this feature. Both use a very similar process, working with very little in order to create something monumental. Both are at the service of their subjects, and both champion the work (be it bricklaying or maths homework) of their participants. Both observe closely but feel it is not enough to make a documentary. But in Un film dramatique we get a sense of joy that is missing from Vitalina Varela. Un film dramatique offers a sense of openness, of joyous endless spirit which is something you don’t often see at such serious film festivals.

(Laura Davis, Locarno Critics Academy 2019)

First published: August 22, 2019

Un film dramatique | Film | Éric Baudelaire | FR 2019 | 114’ | Locarno Film Festival 2019

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