There exists a cinema without a camera: that of director-editors who… drink from the world archives, this bottomless well of images shot by others, to give them a new life, to reassemble them in another order. Each time, it is a question of making the images speak differently, of bringing out other meanings deep within them: intimate, social, political or historical.

One of the specialists on the subject is the Frenchman Jean-Gabriel Périot, born in 1974, renowned for having already revisited the history of the Red Army Fraction in A German Youth (2015) or even that of the purge of women at the Liberation in Had she been criminal… (2006). With Return to Reims [Fragments], his feature film presented at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, in July 2021, he undoubtedly gives the best possible adaptation to the eponymous essay by Didier Eribon (Fayard, 2009), self-analysis leading to a sociopolitical reading of French society. A book which was the subject of two theatrical adaptations, the first by Laurent Hatat, in 2015, the second by Thomas Ostermeier, in 2019.

Social imagination

In this flagship work of determinist thought, the Reims philosopher and sociologist retraced his journey as a “class defector” by painting a portrait of his original environment (parents and grandparents) and, through him, of the working class. in the 20th century. Sparing him the artifices of a fictionalized fiction and a necessarily reductive incarnation, Jean-Gabriel Périot retains from the text a few striking passages, especially devoted to the women of his family (his grandmother and his mother), read by Adèle Haenel and edited on extracts from films, archives or television broadcasts from the 1930s until today. Images which not only illustrate the subject, but give it material to infuse, through bodies, faces, places, period representations which extend it.

In the lot, obscure bands follow other famous ones, such as Zéro de conduct (1933), by Jean Vigo, Le Joli Mai (1963), by Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme, or even Chronique d’un été (1961) , by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin. The words tell an intimate account of the constitution of a political subject, while the images bear witness to the social imagination of which they are the product. At the crossroads of these, operated by editing, something astonishing emerges: the collective unconscious of the “dominated” classes as the tectonic of a history which has not said its last word. And it is on the front of current struggles that Périot allows himself to extend the subject of the book, as if to better endorse its verdict.