DVD: Faubourg 36
Theatrical and DVD Release: April 2009
Written and directed by Christophe Barratier
Starring Gérard Jugnot, Nora Arnezeder, Clovis Cornillac, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu
Song lyrics by Frank Thomas, music by Reinhardt Wagner. Comedy, France
Life is a Stage and God an Impassioned, Working-Class Theatre Company
?People came. And came in droves. They rushed to cheer these unemployed workers and their show. We were making money at last.?
It’s 1936 in Paris and the short-lived Popular Front government has just been elected. Workers are now limited to 40 hours work a week, with Saturdays off, allowing them to take their families to the beach for the first time.
But It’s still a turbulent time. The Chansonia music hall must close because of unpaid rent. Pigoil the stage manager has several motives for getting it up and running again, not the least of which is his desire to regain custody of his son, the accordion-playing Jojo (played wonderfully by the charming Maxence Perrin) for which cause he needs a respectable job and an income. And so he must make the Chansonia a success.
Along comes the aptly named Douce, a lovely young girl in need of work, who shows herself to be a well of talent and charm. Douce represents that sweetness of life over which the rich claim control (and which they exploit mercilessly) but to which the poor are clearly most entitled.
Douce is wooed and won by the passionate young stage hand Milou. She is also courted by the rich, ruthless kingpin Galapiat, whom she obviously loathes but does not wish to alienate because of the Chansonia’s dependence on his goodwill.
Sandwiched between the two eras portrayed in this film is of course the Second World War, but except for hints at the racial and labour struggles that were part of the climate that lead to that war you wouldn’t know the war ever happened.
It would be too facile to label this portrayal escapist; the thought seems rather to be that the show really does go on despite the horrors of human contentions, and also that even without wars the struggles of the working poor remain the same.
Pigoil’s wife has been repeatedly unfaithful and has finally abandoned him. When she ends up with a well-to-do husband she sends the authorities (who agree that the boy would be better off in a more affluent household) to fetch their son Jojo. Pigoil is heartbroken, and seeks every means possible to maintain a link with his son.
Pigoil’s separation from his son is another instance of precious things being withdrawn from the poor, as if people in want are to blame for their circumstances and so cannot be trusted to raise their own children.
But the talent is up for grabs by those with money. Jacky Jacquet, who thinks he is an impersonator and whose trademark is a series of absurd jackets, actually sells himself into wage slavery providing entertainment (they demand that he mock Jews) for a white supremacist group. But he loses his job when he ridicules the fascist organization from the stage, and he returns to the Chansonia to work for nothing.
This film is quintessentially French. Every French community you find the world over bears traces of this peculiar brand of sweetness: the shy, tremulous lovers, the quick fights, the easy hugs, the emotive language, the love of joy and pleasure. Some of the most touchingly Gallic scenes involve friends singing up Jojo’s accordion skills as the boy parades his music through the streets.
The songs themselves are purely delightful?commentaries on Parisian culture, critiques of violence and racism, etc. But the love songs are the best; these ditties take love apart piece by piece and spread it out on a silk coverlet, examining every facet and illuminating it with lovely words.
The joy inspired by the ability to go to the beach is a central theme of the film. The sea sums up what is desirable in?and missing from?the lives of these Parisian workers. A virtually limitless work week has so far precluded days off for family togetherness, but now it is possible to spend one day a week beside the ocean with all of its vastness and implied freedom.
Faubourg 36 manifests 10 of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it confronts, rebukes, and mocks existing injustices; 3) it renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; 4) it makes me want to be a better artist; 5) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 6) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 7) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 8) it is about attainment of the true self; 9) it provides respite from a cruel world; and 10) it harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda.
The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.