Atelier de conversation: At the heart of the circle of culture
by Fabien Lemercier
- Unveiled at the opening of Cinéma du Réel, Bernhard Braunstein’s film plunges to the heart of the exchanges between the many nationalities in Paris
There are 13 of them, sitting in a circle on basic red plastic chairs in a secluded room in the Bibliothèque publique d’information, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. These men and woman from all four corners of the earth, from all walks of life, either arrived in France just a few months ago, or have been living there for several years already. There’s a Japanese baker, Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers, a Turkish former judge, a Chinese student attending business school, an Iraqi calligrapher, a Brit who teaches business English in a bank, a Kurd, a Brazilian, an Argentinian, a Peruvian, a Colombian, a Honduran, a Mexican, an American, an Indian, a Taiwanese man, an Algerian, a Ghanaian, a Madagascan, a Nigerian, a Spaniard, an Italian, a German, a Sri Lankan, a Korean, a Swiss national, an Albanian, a Latvian man, a Czech man, a Bulgarian, a Croatian and so on and so forth. Every week, small groups meet at Beauborg to practise French at sessions led by a group leader. It’s to the heart of this cultural tower of Babel that Bernhard Braunstein (acclaimed for Benevolent Dictator and experimental film Sleeping Image, which he directed with Lucile Chaufour) delicately takes us in his documentary Atelier de conversation, which had its world premiere at the opening ceremony of the 39th Cinéma du Réel Festival.
Based on a very simple film model, built on individual still shots and dipping into six sessions of these exchanges interspersed with images that gradually open up the setting from the workshop to the library surrounding it and then to a panoramic view of Paris, symbolising the way these characters who will leave their seclusion to discover the vast world around them, Atelier de conversation unfolds around the discussion topics at each session: everyone’s presentations on who they are, "the clichés and stereotypes attached to each country", "the perception of the economic crisis", the question of whether or not there are "men’s jobs and women’s jobs", "what you miss when you live in another country", "love". Each person gives their opinion, in their more or less hesitant French, and global cultural diversity becomes just as much of an opportunity for the participants to laugh together as much as fully realise just how harsh some people’s lives are. An interesting take on the French capital and France experienced from the inside by foreigners, the film above all shows how the simplest of feelings, the feeling of loneliness in a strange city, nostalgia for your country and family, and the vital need to communicate, are common to all. Something which the director shows us rather coyly, lingering on the character’s faces, without trying to stack powerful moments in on top of one another, and allowing a microcosm of equality and fraternity reflecting the microcosm of the world to take shape.
(Translated from French)