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Culture

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "À Givors, nous avons trouvé le peuple, pas la pauvreté"

by Pierre Duquesne

"It Was Not Poverty We Met In Givors, But the People"

{Se battre}, (Battling On) by Jean-Pierre Duret & Andrea Santana

Translated Sunday 9 March 2014, by Isabelle Métral

Far from providing a tearful picture of poverty, Se battre, Jean-Pierre Duret and Andrea Santana’s latest documentary, invites us on the ring of class-war.

Jean-Pierre Duret stayed away from the Césars’ ceremony last Friday. He did not turn up to retrieve the golden reward his work as sound engineer on Michael Kohlaas had earned him. For last Friday night he was in Pau (in the Pyrénées) with Secours Populaire volunteers, in order to present his latest film, co-directed with Andréa Santana. The subject: one more epic battle. One that is waged day after day, before our unseeing eyes, in this very country.

HUMA: By immersing yourself for several months in Givors (in the Rhône département, near Lyon - T’s N), what sort of documentary were you aiming at?

DUET: Our aim was not to make a film about poverty, but about those French people who, job or no job, have difficulty making ends meet. Givors, where we had contacts, soon proved to be the right place. A medium-size, working-class town that lies in proximity to the countryside, like many towns in this category, it lost thousands of jobs over a short period. Having elected Communist councils from 1953 onwards, it has an interesting history. Givors has remained hospitable to immigrants, has nurtured in its population a distinct capacity to empathize with others.

A former worker-priest and former deputy mayor has provided us with contacts. You’ll find in Givors all the variety of people whose life hangs on a mere 50 euro to last until the end of the month. Women alone with children, pensioners in precarious conditions, students that must appeal to the Secours populaire, working poor whose daily life is a struggle for life. Far above the official national figure of 13 to 15 million people living below the poverty line, the proper estimate nationwide, according to the Ombudsman, lies somewhere between 13 and 15 million, namely above twenty per cent of the population. Now all these people simply drop out of our sight and hearing. They are made invisible, their existence is utterly denied in today’s so-called society of information overload. In Givors we had the feeling that we were truly meeting the French population that battles on to survive.

HUMA: How do you account for this invisibility?

DURET: Chance has no hand in this. It’s the end-result of the dominant discourse that pits everybody against everybody else, and says sacrifices are necessary for France to remain a rich country of great importance. When Laurent Wauquiez lunged at those he calls “handout-recipients” on the front page of a national paper, the Left’s reactions were not vocal enough. We should have staged a revolt, turned out into the streets. All those lies that have been heaped upon the poor, and repeatedly rammed home, eventually had the intended result: to scare, divide, work up low-wage-earners’ resentment against recipients of the RSA.

It is one way of wiping out from people’s memory the fact that classes of the poor still exist, that they have a culture. And of not showing that day after day, they still find new ways, with their own resources - which is one way of expressing their difficulties, of thinking and resisting. All this has become invisible in the eyes of society. I believe this is our biggest mistake, for which we are all responsible. Our perception of others is something that we can still change if we want to.

HUMA: To what extent can cinema make it possible to drastically change our approach to poverty?

DURET: When we broach a theme like this one, our principle is not to speak for poor people. They alone have this capacity. For they suffer every day from heinous looks, from the shame of being washouts, from the loss of self-confidence, from loneliness – and when you’re in such straits there is no one you can ask to explain what you are. Life comes to a stop. It takes time to regain confidence, to build a relation that is not condescending. Thus,oor people must be filmed with the camera no higher than their eyes and faces, not above but on a par with the human persons. The camera must respect them, love them. Take care of them. Politics can never be re-founded without these destitute men and women. For although one would expect nothing from them, they can pass on to us their values, their own dreams, their need for solidarity, their faith in human beings and their hopes of a better world. Above all, they can show us how they succeed in existing, resisting even though they live from hand to mouth.