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From Aubervilliers to Cairo

Phantom - mercredi 28 novembre 2012

FROM AUBERVILLIERS TO CAIRO – presentation of Julia Varga’s work by Olivier Marboeuf

I discovered the film Check Check Poto at the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers in December 2009 at the invitation of Yvanne Chapuis, at that time co-directress of the Laboratoires. The mediator had just reprimanded a group of over-excited adolescents who’d had the idea of using the large black cushions on the floor (intended for the audience) as weapons of combat. The boys were leaving now, huddled together and exiting in slow motion, rolling their shoulders, hoods up, midway between hilarity and complaint, slackly contesting the punishment that was going to deprive them of a film they had forgotten to watch. It was only when I was plunged back into the ambiance of the projection, the space now strangely calm and empty—and more in conformity with what certain people expect of a contemporary art center—that I realized that part of the filmic material had just left the site. In Check Check Poto, Julia Varga sets up her camera in the confined space of a youth center in Aubervilliers. Unity of place, long master shots, absence of ‘out of frame’ shots—the street reduced to a far off murmur from beyond the windows—the filmmaker creates a theatrical staging where the narrative seems to slowly extricate itself from the threshold of boredom. The agitated bodies that had just been ejected from the space for having tested the resistance of their skulls and the resiliency of the cushions—or was it the other way round—seemed tamed and exhausted on screen, or on the contrary, ready and waiting to pounce. The entrance hall in the film is like an airlock, a place outside of time where the boys come to recharge their batteries. It is at the same time a stage, but also backstage to another stage outside—violence is thus received not directly, but transmitted by way of the bodies the filmmaker encounters. Yes, Check Check Poto is a film that speaks, but the words must be earned, you have to listen to what lies beyond the commonplaces, the protective cliches, the frivolities that are the varnish of despair, the rapid fire flow of words that fills the emptiness. The film’s force is patience, the patience of the fisherman, the ‘letting it come’ that offers improbable moments, both funny and grave as well as an attention to the body—the body of adolescents from working class neighborhoods—that has rarely seemed so fragile and foreign, so abandoned to its own definition. In the spring of 2010, we presented Check Check Poto at the Espace Khiasma to a large audience. The debate after the projection was as animated as it was unexpected, led by social workers discovering these adolescent bodies talking without the mediating ‘help’ of adults. Forbidden bodies more in need of protection, perhaps, than being revealed onscreen. An endless discussion ensued…

Since that first experience, we’ve continued on the same path with Julia, which led us to Egypt, where she shot her second film. Although in a very different context, in a way she uses a similar sort of device in A Butterfly Passed as in Check Check Poto. Here, the microcosm is on the scale of a neighborhood : the junk sellers in a Copt district in Cairo and the little community that gravitates around it, all reacting to the shock waves emanating from the Egyptian revolution and trying to redefine themselves politically. Accompanying Julia in her work is a long, chaotic and passionate adventure, in the emergency conditions of a revolution that will not wait. It is also a commitment because we supported the filming with our own funds. A year and a half, seven shoots and here we are, with hundreds of hours of rushes in Arab that will have to be translated before beginning the editing of this small epic that depicts the first hours of the revolution and the joy and deceptions of a Christian community watching for the first signs of a better future.

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