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GOCRITIC! Animest 2022

GoCritic! Review: The Seine’s Tears


- Dalesia Cozorici takes an in-depth look at the cathartic short film which deals with the 1961 Paris massacre of Algerian protesters

GoCritic! Review: The Seine’s Tears
The Seine’s Tears by Yanis Belaid, Eliott Benard, Nicolas Mayeur, Etienne Moulin, Hadrien Pinot, Lisa Vicente, Philippine Singer and Alice Letailleur

Animest’s fourth competition programme was probably its strongest. It was a carefully curated assortment of recurrent themes which dealt with spirituality in a kaleidoscopic way, from classical patterns to trippy hand-drawn illustrations to vintage-looking comic book imagery.

But the film that stood out the most was definitely The Seine's Tears by Yanis Belaid, Eliott Benard, Nicolas Mayeur, Etienne Moulin, Hadrien Pinot, Lisa Vicente, Philippine Singer and Alice Letailleur, students from the French digital & creative school Pole 3D. This nine-minute 3D animation depicts the 1961 Paris massacre of Algerian demonstrators, an event which the French government denied until 1998. It took place at the height of the Algerian War of Independence, which was starting to go against the French, but it was also a time when Algerian citizens’ rights were subject to increasing restrictions. Tens of thousands took to the streets to protest, until they were attacked by the police, which resulted in somewhere between 40 and 200 deaths, depending on sources.

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The short film in question sheds light on the ways in which some of the protesters lost their lives or were seriously injured in this process, by way of an inventive device rarely used in animation movies. Our protagonist, Nabil, is on the streets with his camera. We see the world from his point of view as he prepares to join the protest, which is already in full swing. The camera closes in on the faces of the characters in the crowd, in the darkness of Paris’s streets, registering anticipation, excitement and fright but also hope. His quivering hands try to hold the camera steady, indicating a great deal of emotion and resulting in a documentary style which allows us to focus on details which feel personal and, often, significant: acquaintances saying hello, police officers’ reactions, a wounded man lying on the ground…

The film shifts from Nabil’s subjective point of view to an objective angle when he boards a bus full of Algerians yet controlled by the police. He remains hopeful when he sees the men, who are in the same situation as him, singing and jumping up and down together on the bus. But the situation is ambiguous: we know something’s not right, we just can’t really pinpoint it.

And on the subject of how to depict such an event, the visual aesthetic created through a blend of special effects, CGI and stop-motion, places the film’s puppet-like characters, who are endowed with genuine human features, within a spectacular setting. Everything is choreographed in a huge, virtuosic environment which lends a feeling of authenticity, strengthened by the found footage-like quality of Nabil’s camerawork, and the 3D-scanned Parisian architecture of the 1960s.

The decision to move from a subjective to an objective angle allows for efficient concentration of the information surrounding the event, and results in a faithful portrayal which is analysed through audio-visual language rather than relying on historical sources and didactic aspects. This makes The Seine’s Tears a safe place to research the trauma suffered by the Algerian community, a topic which cinema, and especially animation, is particularly well-suited for. The film’s goal is to reach an edifying conclusion instead of criticizing or passing judgment. It’s intended to open valuable dialogue about massacres which have left repressed communities traumatised throughout history, in order to heal wounds and educate new generations.

The Seine's Tears tells its story elegantly, enveloping the audience in a combination of violence and sadness, but also hope. The film’s style combines joyful, human gestures with strong, graphic dynamics, but it’s a healthy balance where beauty and ugliness intertwine. The sight of Nabil at a concert in a sports hall filled with glitter, confetti and lights, and dancing to the tones of Ibrahim Maalouf’s soaring track True Sorry, ultimately transcends the tragedy which takes place in that lonely hall full of helpless individuals and rifle-armed policemen, thanks to an ingenious metaphor which turns a scene of bloodshed into one of catharsis.

Read in this key, the film might be considered, by some, to be an overly abstract, happy pill and, potentially, a stereotyped depiction of a given community. But with representation comes interpretation, and it could be argued that the filmmakers have created a series of emotional acts which, whilst not directly depicting the massacre, ultimately provide all the information required to form our own opinions and explore our assumptions. They’ve maintained a closeness but also a distance from the matter, which simultaneously intrigues, irritates, distresses, and delights.

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