At the origin of this documentary, the book by François Maspero, “the Passengers of the Roissy-Express” (Seuil). The book, published in 1990, recounts the hike that the writer undertook the previous year along the RER B line. Thirty years later, the filmmaker Alice Diop – whose film “Vers la tendresse” won an award. Cesar in the category of best short film in 2017 – follows in the author’s footsteps, camera in hand. The triggering event? The front page of “Liberation” after the demonstration of January 11, 2015 in reaction to the “Charlie Hebdo” and Hyper Cacher attacks. The daily then headlines: “We are a people”. Who exactly is “us”? In the photo, Alice Diop, born in Aulnay-sous-Bois to Senegalese parents, sees only a predominantly white crowd.
Between existential quest and sociological stroll
She then decides to meet those who live along this line crossing Paris and its suburbs from north to south, in a variety of landscapes and social environments. And films, without commentary, inhabitants of cities, residential areas, industrial zones and even forests. Universes that coexist and often ignore each other: an undocumented migrant asleep in a truck under a bridge on the A86, teenagers from a city with a tongue-in-cheek language, a nurse (the director’s sister), who flies from patient to patient, royalists commemorating the death of Louis XVI at the basilica of Saint-Denis… At the same time, Alice Diop traces the thread of her own history and that of her deceased parents.
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She also meets the essayist Pierre Bergounioux whose “Notebook” (Verdier) captures the life of this intellectual from Gif-sur-Yvette (Essonne). With him, she recognizes a community of soul, affirming “To make films to offer an existence to those whom one does not watch” and that we call “People of little”. “I want to prevent these people from disappearing from the national story as was the case for my parents”, she explains. Between existential quest and sociological stroll, this beautiful film was rewarded at the last Berlinale with the prize – deserved – for best documentary.
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Wednesday November 24 at 10:30 p.m. on Arte. French documentary by Alice Diop (2020). 1h55. (Available in replay until January 29, 2022 on Arte.tv).