One World Romania 2020. A Lua Platz – Listen to their defeats

21 August, 2020

„To know how to listen to a defeat – this is how one can briefly sum up director Jérémy Gravayat’s essential process. His film, A Lua Platz, shows why it’s necessary to take the part of those who are defeated. If we were to ask ourselves what cinema can do when it comes to accompanying a character on its journey, the images of the film could offer just as many possible answers. Because this is a documentarian gesture that manages to avoid both a heavy-handed, inhospitable mannerism, the kind which would render its true subject moot, as well as the temptation to direct a victimizing reportage. In this film, to accompany means to film starting from the characters – specifically, from the vantage points of a few dispossessed Romanian immigrants -, from their ways and places of living, without continually breathing down their necks.” This is what I wrote about A Lua Platz after having seen it for the first time, more than a year ago. Since then, my relationship with Jérémy Gravayat’s film has become more sophisticated, following the fact that I’ve watched the film multiple times and had several discussions about it. Something has remained unchanged, however: the awareness that this film cannot be depleted, that its just images will always speak volumes beyond any given pole of interpretation. It’s a part of the extraordinary force of this documentary, which constructs a common audiovisual space, opening up various aesthetic and political fronts, the same as the ones where today’s intense battles are waged, showing a profound trust in the collective power to change the world for the better.

What exactly attracted me so much to Gravayat’s film? I could say that I finally found the film that manages to fully redeem, with generosity and delicacy, a national trauma: that of mass emigration. A Lua Platz is the kind of film that avoids numbers and statistics, sociological case studies and theoretical fly-overs, entirely giving itself to searching a true form of solidarity, which involves concrete intervention in the lives of some people, but also with collecting ways of inhabiting, ways of moving, ways of seeing. Even more so, it’s an attempt at ripping away the veil that had enveloped this consistent part of the diaspora, the one which remains invisible even during the electoral season. Is Gravayat’s film the first of its kind? Certainly not. I’ll only mention Stella (2008), Vanina Vignal’s documentary about a woman who has permanently relocated to France, where she struggles to survive in a ghetto. That was one of the first attempts at breaking the barrier of the regular, bird’s eye-view reportage on immigration, which is both stigmatizing and made from a position of superiority, to truly listen to a Romanian who has left, who is telling the story of their intimate dramas.

A Lua Platz
Still from A Lua Platz

Gravayat’s film follows Stella – but also crucial documentaries in this regard, such as Maurice Pialat’s L’amour existe (1960), which discusses the first banlieue high-rises, or Peter Nestler’s Zigeuner Sein (1970), about what it truly means to be a Roma person in a society that is as racist as ours. All of this results in an approach in which, far from forced attempts at cramming it into a given pre-existing cinematic genre, everything is connected to the bigger picture through all sorts of barely-visible seams, which meet together somewhere outside of the frame. What does A Lua Platz discuss? Not just the harsh lives of a couple of Romanian families that live in a ghetto at the margins of Paris. But also, the possibility of inventing forms of political cinema. Or the possibility to create a space that is layered in time, which is governed by historical solidarity.

A Lua Platz is not just a militant film. Bringing together several recording formats – from 16mm reel to video – its allure is instead that of an object that is painstakingly manufactured, against the odds of an industry that shoves Ikea products down our necks. Unreliable, the film ceaselessly searches for its shape, being capable of passing through a simple cut from a contemplative Chantal Akerman-esque dolly shot to a pure-blooded activist scene, in which the members of the crew are involved in an altercation with law enforcement officers, to protect the Romanians who are threatened with eviction. A Lua Platz literally adopts the thought of cinema as a form of refuge: it’s more than an opportunity to give voices to people who’ve been swept away by the deluge of life, but, instead, even more directly, it means giving the aura of a character to a person who is just like us, and then, to invest in their struggles alongside them, day and night. It’s a lengthy act, which in the film takes the shape of a difficult negotiation, of a continual readjustment to the current situation – and which is always executed obliquely, through the filmic medium’s capacity to host the raspy voices of the Romanians, mum as a chant, and to overlay them onto the desolating landscape of the Parisian periphery. In such moments, when a person talks about their defeats, filling the entire horizon with grief, the film achieves a sort of straubian incandescence, summoning amongst us a hidden history of violence and repression, while animating a scenery that wasn’t indicative of much. Because the landscape is not innocent, instead, it hides the battles of the past. The film shows us that they can be once again brought to light, once we accept the effort to find the appropriate distance to the subject, the right cinematic duration, the cut that comes just at the right moment, the gaze that is piercing enough.

I spoke about distance, duration, montage, gaze. These are keywords that compose the backbone of this documentary. What really attracted me so much to Gravayat’s film? Its cinephile-activist conscience, which whispers in his ear that such concepts are not to be taken lightly. At one point, the film turns to use static, black and white photographs: we see the faces of people of times long past, dressed in drab costumes and scuttering through the mud, between two frail huts. The images persist onscreen; the people in them stare into our eyes, beyond any apparatus and any curtain. The spectator knows that his service has been returned, that the film’s space is multi-layered and transgressive, that a first contact has been established. (And what else is cinema, if not the effort to generate such contacts?) The images flow, in black and white, too, and suddenly we see modern cars, armored gendarmes, people of our present-day: Romanians who have arrived there in inhuman conditions have replaced those of aught. The editing ties all of these threads together. The political force of the film cannot be subsumed to some passing interests. A theoretical reflection always doubles its militant aplomb; the film’s ethics is an aesthetic in itself. With A Lua Platz, I had the very rare sentiment that cinema is a new and untraveled continent, ready to accommodate all the fair images of the world.

A Lua Platz will be screened in Bucharest at the Verde Stop Arena on the 24th of August and will be available online on the One World Romania platform, between the 21st and 30th of August.

 

Avatar Victor Morozov
Film critic and journalist; writes regularly for the Dilema veche cultural magazine and collaborates with Acoperișul de Sticlă, Film Reporter, Ziarul Metropolis; enrolled in a Film Studies programme at Trinity College, Dublin.