Young and Alive / L’Epoque at LFF 2018
Tuesday 16 October 2018, by
Young and Alive is not quite an apt translation of the original title of this film, L’Epoque, which in its subtitles has been translated as the more accurate "our times". Director Matthieu Bareyre was keen to stress this during the Q&A session that followed the screening at the London Film Festival.
The documentary had made its debut in Locarno and this was only its second screening. The first sequence is a series of still shots of French emblems and assorted images of political authority and dominance, or identity as the country likes to project, the statue of Marianne on Place de la Republique, Macron’s laughing mouth, the Arc de Triomphe, interspersed with meaningful shots of shop windows and big advertising billboards underlining the rampant capitalistic spirit at play in the city. All to the sound of technobeats, all shot at night.
It’s a powerful start to the doc. The monuments, the shops, the posters all appear as crushing monoliths, looming over the audience. This is the setting for the real subjects of Bareyre’s documentary, young Parisians, sharing their hopes, dreams, aspirations and most particularly their anger and frustrations with the filmmaker. Mathieu Bareyre, who’d only shot one short (doc) - Nocturnes - before this decided to work on L’Epoque during the week that followed the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the murder of the paper’s writers. Bareyre felt that things were going to kick off, that the aftermath of the attacks would see certain social repercussions that he wanted to capture and expose. One of these was the convenient eclipsing of issues that affected young people in France most directly - poverty, unemployment, career aspiration, racism, police violence - by terrorism that the media and the political class positioned as the one major danger facing the nation, one that justified all sorts of draconian surveillance laws and the sidelining of urgent social and economic problems.
Shooting at night on and off from May 2015 through to the presidential elections of May 2017, during protests, raves, clashes with the police, drunken escapades and friendly gatherings on the banks of the Seine, Bareyre found an eclectic mix of young people to interview: debauched business school graduates, talented freestyling rappers, eloquent cité-dwellers asking for journalists to come and see what life is like inside the sprawling housing estates, giddy couples, DJs, young protesters denouncing police brutality and racism...
It’s mostly - business school students and their antics aside - a truly impressive line-up of talking heads. Bareyre managed to get them all to let lose, speak freely and share their innermost thoughts, and they do so with humour, talent, eloquence and intelligence. I at least left feeling both sad and angry at the abuses of power that they highlight and truly hopeful that they are part of the make-up of the new generation.
Bareyre has certainly made a daring film, in which the implicit denunciation of police violence and the repressive atmosphere of the post-Charlie Hebdo period will I imagine cause some degree of controversy. But hopefully it will enjoy a wide distribution. Nearly three years in the making, with 22 months of post-production, L’Epoque is a very moving, vibrant and courageous effort, especially given the fact that this is Bareyre’s first feature. It will hopefully be the first of many!