Exiled British director Peter Watkins’s latest work is as challenging and radical as any of his earlier films (The War Game, 1965; Punishment Park, 1970; The Journey, 1983-86). La Commune offers a unique insight into the two months when the people of Paris seized power and experimented with direct democracy. In 1871, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war and as the 135-day siege of Paris was driving them to starvation, the predominantly working-class National Guard refused to hand over its cannons to the Versailles-based Adolphe Thiers government, in effect giving the signal for insurrection. A landmark in working-class radicalism that was duly recognised as such by Karl Marx, the Paris Commune became an effervescent laboratory for social justice, women’s rights, workers’ emancipation, internationalism, education reform and the separation of Church and State. The short-lived revolutionary episode of the Commune was to be violently suppressed by the troops sent in by the Versaillais.
Such a dramatic and politically charged event demanded an alternative approach to the typical TV documentary or the Hollywood historical epic, both of which Watkins rejects as examples of what he describes as the ‘Monoform’. La Commune’s greatest achievement is its ability not only to depict so vividly the actual happening but also to make its audience such an active element in the viewing process. The anachronistic conceit of having a Communard TV crew reporting on a daily basis as the inhabitants of the 11th arrondissement invent a new life for themselves turns out to be the film’s stroke of genius. This device gives voice to the Communards and conveys, in long, continuous takes, the brief life of the Universal Republic, from the hopeful and feverish atmosphere of its beginning to the doomed resilience of its end. Allowing his cast of over 200, mostly inexperienced players to improvise their roles during the two-week shoot outside Paris, Watkins emphasises process over product and stresses the contemporary relevance of the events he depicts. The results make for a riveting, thought-provoking work that engages the spectator in a reflection on political and social commitment then and now, the role of the today’s media and the possibility or need for a new kind of collective utopia. Don’t miss the Irish premiere of this unique work. Laurent Marie France, 1999. English subtitles. Black and white. Beta SP. 3hrs 45 mins.
La Commune, which has a running time of approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, will be shown with at least one interval, during which food and Communard kirs will be available. The screening will be followed by a debate with members of the cast, to be held in the IFC Meeting Room. A special admission charge of 8 (no concessions) will apply to this event.