Wednesday, November 12, 2008

partie de campagne

12 November

"Nos Enfants Nous Accuseront" is not a particularly well-made film. Directed and partly written by Jean-Paul Jaud, a television producer making his first documentary film, it relies too heavily on gorgeous stills shot across the rich fields and mountains around Barjac, the village at the center of the film. These, and the swelling music, give the film the feeling of a series of epiphanies, when actually it records an ongoing social struggle whose outcome is far from certain. That struggle, though, is worth the careful scrutiny it gets in Jaud's film, quite apart from the director's artistic pretensions.

Barjac's drama is the drama of the earth itself, threatened with industrial methods of agricultural production that poison the soil and contaminate our food supply. The film cuts from farmers spraying clouds of chemicals on their crops to a UNESCO conference in which epidemic levels of cancer and birth defects are linked to the concentrations of poisons in our food. Led by its forward-looking mayor and a cadre of dedicated school personnel, Barjac fights back: the school canteen announces an all-organic food policy, children learn to appreciate organic food by growing it in little plots, and experts engage a skeptical group of local farmers in lengthy discussions of subsidy-driven market distortion and the logic underlying sustainable production. In this film cafeteria cooks are heroes, and by the end the whole village sings a protest song--"aux armes citoyens!"--while sampling one another's pot-luck delicacies.  

What interested me most was not the issue, important though it is, or the sentiment deployed to advance its message. No, the really remarkable thing is how this small-town mayor, these ordinary country folk, are able to act decisively and communally in the face of a vast threat that leaves many of us shaking our heads and changing the subject. The mayor takes a brave stand because he knows he needs to. Teachers tell their students what is right and what is wrong--their descriptions of processed turkey patties have the kids making sick faces--with no apparent fear of being labelled ideologues or fanatics. A rough consensus forms around the urgency of the problem, and the children, their parents, and the local farming establishment are brought to reason. The mayor asks a number of people how it's going, but he doesn't ask if they think he's right.  Close-ups of the faces of adults at meetings--cooks and parents and farmers, straining to understand the scientific explanations of medical and agronomic experts--are some of the film's best moments. Close-ups of children delighting in the lush produce they pull from the earth are a close second. But although the film's vocabulary is an antiquated repertoire of sentiment combined with the false sublime of the wide-angle lens, its unstated message is of solidarity, people's power, and resistance. In this domain the people of Barjac have much to teach Paris, and us all.



At November 12, 2008 at 11:41 PM , Blogger David said...

history question:

can you explain why de gaulle is mentioned in this context?

--your nephew david

At November 13, 2008 at 5:41 PM , Blogger brent whelan said...

Hello David! Your question intrigues me but I couldn't get the link to open. Can you send it to me in some other form?
salutations militantes,

At November 14, 2008 at 12:34 PM , Blogger David said...

also: there are two interesting video interviews of bill ayers today on the abc news web site

At November 18, 2008 at 7:00 PM , Blogger brent whelan said...

Hi again, David. I finally tracked down the source: I think the key fact is that DeGaulle is last in the series "toddlers, terrorists, bosses, dogs ..." Several instances come to mind when a British person might make that association: 1) during WWII when DeGaulle insisted on being accorded the protocols of a major head of state even though that 'state' effectively consisted of a few sub-saharan colonies not really under his control; and 2) when he took France out of NATO and assumed the hauteur of an independent super-power on the dubious basis of France's 'force de frappe'. Of course both ploys, however irrational, were enormously successful, as are the tactics of toddlers and dogs. (terrorist is going a bit far).


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