Haraka, 1976

PAL, sound, black and white

Le Lion, sa cage et ses ailes

Films by Armand Gatti made in the Montbéliard region with immigrant workers.
Images and editing: Hélène Chatelain, Stéphane Gatti.

In early 1975, Montbéliard's Centre for Cultural Activities invited Armand Gatti to create a work in direct collaboration with the people of the town. The Centre provided video equipment and a subsidy from the Cultural Intervention Fund. Armand Gatti observed Montbéliard, the second-largest working class concentration in France, dominated by Peugeot. The town is home to some 10,000 immigrants, out of a total population of 35,000. He found that Montbéliard was a "schizophrenic town", inhabited by people with different backgrounds and languages. A town like the Tower of Babel. The initial hypothesis: "a film about you" – or the story of a town recounted by its inhabitants – became a history of inhabitants with a common denominator of exile. A film made in close collaboration with immigrant workers. In the context of Montbéliard's nebulous form with many nationalities, Armand Gatti suggested that each community should write its own scenario and give its own view of Montbéliard. Accompanied by Hélène Chatelain and Stéphane Gatti, he proposed to turn the words into images. Video provided the material that was adequate for the requirements. Armand Gatti: "[…] It is neither cinema nor television, but it is the possibility of brining into existence a language that we couldn't have had with television. And it couldn't exist in the cinema either, because it has no working class vocation, it tends to elitism: you send off your films to the laboratory and the people don't see a thing, whereas here, they have an immediate view of what they are doing."1 In the January 30th 1977 edition of Le Monde, Catherine Humblot wrote: "Le lion, sa cage et ses ailes is not only an exemplary form of activity, it's also a new way of writing, a Godard-like style of talking round and about communication …" The immigrants chose to speak out. They filmed inside the factory but also in the streets where they lived. A kind of immigration that takes on its own personality and finds its own identity. Armand Gatti doesn't work with groups; he follows the individual. The film escapes from the dominant ideology of the 1970's. It doesn't try to unite the working class and dissociates itself from the myth of homogenisation; on the contrary, it shows that everything that has been said about the class struggle doesn't necessarily correspond to the experiences that immigrants have lived through. Hélène Chatelain: " […] it caught on about immigration. Because we didn't have a political standpoint, nor a strategic approach, but a variable approach that gave a completely existential point of view. Suddenly, the desire to speak out, the desire for an identity took a strong hold. "2 Le lion, sa cage et ses ailes takes on the form of an epic of everyday life with the appearance of faces that come into view, with first names and surnames. Individuals who carry the traces of the past (marked by history, by war…). Altogether, the full video includes six films, which are interwoven and superimposed, a prologue and an epilogue. Armand Gatti's team followed the progress of each community's scenario – sometimes the scenario became the story of the scenario. Over a six-month period, 90 hours of tape were recorded. Armand Gatti gave up the idea of making a 90-minute film that he would structure himself and at the same time, he gave up on the notion of making a "film d'auteur". The team decided to make three films, then six, then seven – finally, one for each nationality. In spite of renewed resistance, Armand Gatti was able to obtain funding from the town's social action fund and the cultural intervention fund, as well as help from the INA. It took two years of shift editing, Stéphane Gatti during the day and Hélène Chatelain at night, to finish the work. The editing gives a constant pace for these eight films, which are always well framed and often have moving images. Just as Armand Gatti's theatrical works are a blend of historic context and imaginary transportation, these films tell the story of everyday life to which various imaginative aspects are added – themselves the subject of commentary. The film builds on repetitions and corresponding features from one community to another. Each pivots around a central point: Mijailovic Radovan's identity papers, Uncle Salvador and his images of the Spanish civil war, Charles's sculpture and the memory of Severian, the dance and colour of the Polish group, the Ramadan intonation and the photograph of Gramsci. And yet each work remains the very image of Montbéliard, a schizophrenic nebulosity that is set out through the culture of immigrants and the poetic vision of Armand Gatti. Each film contains several films.

1 La Nouvelle Critique, June-July 1978 (as reported by Emile Breton).
2 Jean-Paul Fargier, "Une expérience de vidéo" (interview with Hélène Chatelain), Cahiers du cinéma, number 287, April 1978.

Moroccan film: Haraka (61')

The Moroccan film opens on Pacha, while a voice off intones a stereotype image of the Turkish immigrant: three children, a wife and an old father who went bust in the past, preferably in the fruit and vegetable business. To address his family, Pacha doesn't write. He simply takes up his instrument, wherever he may be, and communicates directly with them. In Montbéliard, a land of émigrés, time isn't measured in terms of months: it takes its rhythm from those small events that mark a given period. When Pacha presents his 'Song of 12 months of an immigrant worker in Montbéliard' to his friends in the hospital, we can see the joy in their faces.

Meanwhile, life continues its active pace within the other communities. The Portuguese are concerned with the elections in Portugal. Radovan, the Yugoslav, has raised the problem of the money needed to repatriate a body. The Poles have their feast days. The Armenians, refugees from the genocide, where the first generation speaks Armenian, the second generation Turkish and the third French, sometimes need an interpreter to understand each other. Language is a common theme for all exiled people. Immigrants are victims of this on arriving in France, a basis for their exploitation, and an additional obstacle to their fitting in on arrival. For the company, it doesn't matter – work is the only thing that counts.

Turks, Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians: the Muslim world. And it was from this right to be Muslim that the North-African scenario was to come: Ramadan (the provisional title) becoming Haraka ("forward") as filming progressed. Ajmi, the Moroccan, explains that his culture doesn't come across in the scenario (written, measured), his culture is teeming profusion. The film raises the question of the difficulty of entering another culture. The Yugoslav, Radovan, explains: "I only have one solution remaining, and that is to enter French culture. For a worker like me, French culture is the bosses' society that offers us contracts, doctors who examine us like cattle, foremen, section chiefs, heads of department, personnel managers, spies, stool pigeons and company police." Ajmi expresses the great difficulty of up-rooted people in everyday life: "I speak French to communicate … if I haven't got French or Arab, what's left?"

Finally, the scenario opens: a dialogue between some Moroccan workers from the Montbéliard region with the "Orchestra of the Prophet", come to set up on the hill opposite the Peugeot plant. This was how Haraka came into being – from the entire Moroccan community. Armand Gatti's team were given 32 scenarios and they didn't make a selection: they simply took the first. The protagonists? The "Orchestra of the Prophet" on the hill opposite the Peugeot plant and vice versa. A Moroccan sets of to go to work. Ajmi and his friend come home from work. A work camp that is almost like a concentration camp, guarded by former members of the Legion. The solitude of the immigrant, the hard life, prayers in Arab. The "Orchestra of the Prophet sends up psalms to the heavens – symbolically, on the hill opposite the Peugeot plant. Workers in a dump, the factory's cemetery. The film is jerkily cut, with very short shots. A coming and going between reality and fiction. Scenes of everyday life in the hostel. The men are drinking tea, three people clustered round a radio. A game of cards. A police raid. The game of cards finishes on the song and rhythms of the "Orchestra of the Prophet", like a sort of warriors' dance. Then comes the difficult morning after the night before, breakfast. The film returns to cultural problems. Ramadan and the uneasiness caused by the young generation, cultural incomprehension, accidents, the work of the trade unionist. An opposition is opening up within the community, a movement of workers and the unemployed. For the workers, Ramadan is perceived as their dignity as workers. For the unemployed, only unemployment counts. For unemployed job seekers, the days are short. They refuse o do a take over again; to start over the same take again would be sacrilege to them! On Saturday, solidarity comes to the fore again. Ramadan is celebrated. Ajmi finds himself back on the hill again.

Pacha the musician has added a thirteenth month – the month of the North-African miracle. The two unemployed people have found jobs.

Dominique Garrigues