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David Dufresne • Director of The Monopoly of Violence

"To still believe in the virtues of dialogue, even if it’s increasingly difficult to do so"


- David Dufresne discusses The Monopoly of Violence, a socially engaged documentary dissecting the current philosophy behind law enforcement in France

David Dufresne  • Director of The Monopoly of Violence

Released in French cinemas on 30 September by Jour2Fête, David Dufresne’s The Monopoly of Violence [+see also:
film review
interview: David Dufresne
film profile
enjoys the support of Cannes’ Directors Fortnight and has already been presented in the Toronto (Industry Selects line-up) and New York film festivals.

Cineuropa: How did the idea for the film come about? Was it the accumulation of images of police "slip-ups" during “gilets jaunes” demonstrations, or a desire to reflect upon Max Weber’s assertion that "The State lays claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence"?
David Dufresne:
When it came to all those images that I was compiling on Twitter with Allo Place Beauvau, I realised at a certain point that I needed to stop scrolling, because to scroll is to delete: we go from one video to another and we forget what it is we’ve actually seen. All those videos which started to document incidents of police violence were hugely important because they helped to spark debate, but I felt that those images deserved to be given an elevated place, in history. That footage by Jérôme Rodrigues, for example, who films himself at the Bastille protest, and who falls and loses an eye with his telephone fixed on the Bastille’s July Column in a perfect shot: on Facebook you can’t see that it’s perfect, that history is being written, we just see one event succeeded by another. The documentary is something else entirely: it’s a movement, a murmur. So, there was that idea, but there was also that of still believing in the virtues of dialogue, even if it’s increasingly difficult to do so. So that’s where Max Weber’s phrase came into it, and the idea of saying to oneself: we’re going to talk about the fundamentals. Which is where the idea for the film came from: on the one hand, in terms of images, believing in some sort of cinéma vérité, in a new form of cinéma brut, and on the other, believing in language, in words, in conversation, in the dialectic.

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How did you go about choosing the images of violence, on the one hand, and the people who would take part in the more "intellectual" debate, on the other?
In terms of the video footage, I had six terabytes of images, which is a lot. I was very restrained in my choices because I wasn’t making an ultra-violent film. I prioritised sequence shots and I didn’t use music, slow motion, zoom effects or fast-cut editing: we kept it as sober as possible. As for the protagonists, the idea was that they should want to talk, to discuss things, to reflect and to listen to one another, even if they weren’t in agreement. What really took time was deciding on the form this would take. I started out telling myself that instead of interviews, there’d be two-way conversations. And I also had the idea of reflecting upon images, the weightiness of images, the role played by images.

The film analyses the evolution of France’s law enforcement philosophy, also examining the thinking of police trade unionists.
We’re seeing a shift, which is even more prominent now, because individual freedoms, fundamental freedoms, are taking a real beating in the name of public health. We’re being put in a position where we have to accept it, and that’s the very definition of a controlling society: digital surveillance, facial recognition in the underground, digital apps, etc. And it’s awful because it’s in the name of the greater good, in the name of something imperative such as health, and obviously we’re all in favour of protecting our health. There’s no debating the overall aim, but can we talk about what’s actually taking place? Obviously, the film doesn’t tackle Covid-19 because I’d already finished it by then, but it does tackle the question of the different disciplinary and controlling regimes which are establishing themselves under our noses, and which deserve greater, more serious and substantial attention than television, for example, can bring about. The film tries to suggests new paths.

Are you expecting your film to stir up controversy?
If the film is able to spark debate, it’s a good thing. If it creates controversy, I will defend it, but that’s not what I’m looking for. You can not like the film or even be against it, but it’s not a tract or the work of a firebrand, so it’s a curveball for people like police unionists who spend their time insisting on social media that I’ve got it in for the police, that I’m a hater, etc. Certain police unions are actually now calling for a boycott of Omar Sy, arguing that he can’t play the part of a police officer in Night Shift [+see also:
film review
interview: Anne Fontaine
film profile
because he’s declared himself in favour of the Truth for Adama Committee. That’s what it’s come to. Over and above what happens with my film, the idea that police unions no longer focus on trade unionism or on policing, but instead get political, practically policing our thoughts, is very worrying.

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(Translated from French)

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