Rarely have I seen so many cows, sheep and chickens on screen as during the short span of my visit to the ‘Festival of the Real’. Not unlike cattle being herded through paddocks to the slaughterhouse as in the documentary Qui a peur du Minotaure, by Dominique Gros, we festival goers queued up in long rows outside Centre Pompidou (or ‘Beaubourg’ as it is commonly referred to), inching closer to this Mecca for documentary culture. Except that our purpose proved more pleasant than the fate of the cows.

The film by Dominique Gros revolves around the image of the cow and the bull, each a figure of mythology as well as modern culture in which they represent food and entertainment (steaks, milk and bull fights). Texts about the myth are read aloud on the soundtrack, all the while close-ups of big cow eyes gaze at us.

Dominique Gros "Qui a peur du Minotaure"
Dominique Gros “Qui a peur du Minotaure”

From prairies and cowsheds, the film takes us to the laboratory where scientific research in animal embryology is carried out. Although the cow clones are not complete look-alikes, they are genetically identical. Quite a disturbing thought when you consider that this kind of research is applicable to humans. The filmmaker interviews a number of people while making comments of her own. Stylistically the mix of voiceover narration, interviews and associative images does not really blend into a successful whole, but provokes a feeling of confusion. I’m not sure what the director was trying to say with this film exactly, except that it takes an intellectual view on society and culture through the ways we domesticate, breed, select, kill, consume and industrialize animals. It’s a film at the elitist end of the spectrum but lacks focus on the essential issues.

Rural and Urban Realities 

A dead chicken is a source of misery to an Ethiopian woman in the documentary Le prêt, la poule et l’oeuf , by Claude Mouriéras, on the international competition programme. It’s a story of a new, emerging micro-economy in the Ethiopian countryside. Agents from Buusaa, a small, local loan company, encourage the women peasants to take out small loans and invest the money.

A woman tells her friend how she took out a loan and bought a chicken. A rat ate the eggs. The woman then put out rat poison but the chicken ate it and died. And she still has to repay the loan. This is a concrete example of the fragility of a micro-economy. The loan agents urge the women to take out bigger loans, but most of them are sceptical and hesitate loaning more money than they will be able to repay.

It’s an eye-opening film that redirects the spots from the theatres of war to issues of survival on the African continent. In the Q&A discussion that followed the screening, the director stated he wanted to show the first signs of this new market mechanism and how people confront it. The film presents a somewhat general view of the subject, showing a bit of every woman’s life, and it might have benefited from following only one or two of the women over a longer period of time to measure the effect and change that a loan may or may not have had on their lives, like the woman whose chicken died after eating rat poison…

Et si on fusionnait, by Julie Bertucelli, also deals with economy and market forces, on a different level, however. The merger of three major European steel groups into an international industrial giant risks to throw thousands of people out of work. But unemployment is not an issue, profit is paramount.

Julie Bertucelli
Julie Bertucelli

The merger is a pretext for the filmmaker to examine the inner circle of men whose exercise of power decides the fate of thousands of workers (“Or ‘employees’ as we call them,” says one of the steel bosses). The director follows the executives of the three merging companies at dinners and negotiations that take place behind closed doors. The ironic voiceover commentary reinforces the prejudices one might have of businessmen in action, discussing tactics in shirtsleeves over half-empty wine glasses, popping bad jokes or putting on self-assured airs in front of journalists. The gamut of the internal and external power game. The subject is probably the least sexy in the whole world, and unfortunately the film fails to render it appetizing enough for the big screen. But I’m sure it works well on television.

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