Divergences, revue libertaire internationale (15/03/2010), par Christiane Passevent
TéléCinéObs (06-12/03/2010), par Marjolaine Jarry
Les Inrockuptibles (03-09/03/2010), par Vincent Ostria
Le Figaro (06/03/2010), par Isabelle Nataf
La Croix (06/03/2010), par Julien Fournier
Supplément télévision du Monde (28/02-01/03/2010) , par Hélène Delye
Daniel Lindvall, Film International (www.filmint.nu/?g=node/173)
However, the major revelation for me at RIFF was undoubtedly The Rebel, Louise Michel and its director, Sólveig Anspach. Louise Michel, anarchist and feminist, teacher and poet, was one of the women who fought for the Paris Commune in the spring of 1871, not only with her pen and her skills in organising and inspiring, but also with a gun in her hand. As the working and lower middle classes of Paris rose up following the disastrous war against Prussia launched by the emperor Louis Bonaparte, and ruled the city for a few short weeks, democratic and socialist reforms were enacted that were decades or more ahead of their time and in some cases far outdo contemporary versions of democracy. But when the bourgeois troops of Adolphe Thiers re-conquered the city, a bloodbath commenced as tens of thousands of Communards were summarily executed. The number of victims well exceeded those of the infamous ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution, possibly tenfold. Louise Michel escaped with her life and was instead among the 4,200 Communards deported to the French colony of New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific. As opposed to many of th e other deportees, she remained true to the internationalism of the Commune even in a non-European context. She took a great interest in the culture of the indigenous, Kanak, population and sided with them as they rebelled in 1878. It is this period of exile that is the subject of Anspach’s film.
Anspach is no stranger to exile, of sorts. Her Rumanian-German father and Icelandic mother met in France, married in the US and where then driven back to Europe by the onset of McCarthyism. Anspach, herself, grew up in Iceland, on the Westman Islands, where, as a child she experienced the temporary evacuation of her hometown due to a volcanic eruption in 1973. She went to film school in Paris in the late 1980s and has since worked extensively in both France and Iceland, making both documentary and fiction films. Her website can be found at www.solveig-anspach.com. It is well worth a visit for those who have yet to discover her work.
Though literally a world apart, something of the islander’s sensibility to the seascape seems to have followed Anspach from the northern Atlantic to the Pacific. Images of soft sunlight falling on the New Caledonian mountains remind me instantly of how the undulating grassy hills of Videy Island, in the bay outside of Reykjavik, looked as sun broke through the grey clouds. Much like Oblivion, Louise Michel is a film of great beauty that never for a second detracts from the serious story being told. On the contrary, the paradisiacal landscape serves as a contrast further emphasizing the ugly brutality of colonialism. Violence takes place off-screen, but the image of the dead bodies of Michel’s Kanak friends, as she finds them on the beach, makes it very real nonetheless. The Kanak bodies also come to symbolize her murdered Parisian comrades, killed by the very same enemy. Sylvie Testud, as Michel, truly brings the revolutionary to life, as if possessed by the same energy, courage, stubbornness, a certain occasional awkwardness and, most of all, the burning desire for justice. Her striking similarity to the few images of Michel is almost uncanny. Such likeness is by no means indispensable for biographical films. After all, in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Gael García Bernal brings a real life, human presence to his incarnation of Che Guevara precisely because he does not overly resemble the iconic, over-familiar, commercialised image of the Argentinean. But in the case of the far less over-exposed appearance of Michel it undoubtedly works to Testud’s advantage.
Leaving Reykjavik, with images of New Caledonia and the volcanic moonscapes and grassy hills of Iceland interwoven in my mind’s eye, I strongly hope that RIFF will continue to develop along its current path for many years to come, encouraging an Icelandic and international cinema that dares to look unflinchingly at our history and our crisis-ridden global reality, without ever losing its ultimate faith in humanity – somewhat in the spirit of Louise Michel.