Two Recent French Films: One Sings the Other Doesn’t
April 6, 2009
Here we have the 2009 Oscar nominated foreign film, The Class (Entre les Murs) exhibiting the real will and best practices of an experimental documentary: actual teacher and real students playing version of themselves in a classroom-bound, talky depiction of what and how it means to teach and learn how to be “French” in present-day multi-racial France. Disaffected from the “Camemberts” who are their chalky white and cheesy teachers, these African, Asian, Arab, and European French kids insolently and understandably find little of value from the lessons, histories, and manners dictated to them by their bourgie once-colonizers. The film presents few answers, but lots of points of view, often changing, about the meaning of education, discipline, and cross-cultural respect. Its “simple” “documentary” form allows the viewer to watch the ethics of complex social interactions play out in scene after scene lacking, or re-thinking closure, about who should be in control, and how things might change.
Meanwhile, Witnesses (Les Temoins) shows them camemberts at their unselfconscious and stereotypical worst. Revisiting the scene of AIDS arrival in France in the mid-80s, it utilizes the overly-sexed, sentimental style of dominant French cinema (everyone looks and walks like a model) to deflate the fear, anger, and the community engendered in the earliest days of HIV into a weepy set of bi-sexual love and loss stories. Boo hoo. As I’ve written about in this blog, at length, revolution (and other complex social dramas) demand more than a love story. Mainstream cinema’s will for closure, story, identification, and simplicity yet again proves only to disallow its much needed participation as a potent vessel for our engagement in the politics of culture: so, heres to the ballsy cinema experiment once again!