From Cannes: ‘La Traversée (On the Road in France)’ Puts Modern France Under the Spotlight

Retired politician Dany Cohn-Bendit and Retired radical Romain Goupil undertake a carefully planned tour of France following the election of Emmanuel Macron. Along the way they reminisce about the activism of their youth and try to understand modern French attitudes to politics, the economy, immigration and Islam.

Firstly I must address that my lack of familiarity with French politics and recent history are a hindrance to my fill understanding of the film. Parties and events are alluded to with no concessions to those who may be unfamiliar. Most pertinently I was unfamiliar with the period of civil unrest of May 1968 in which our two leads were apparently very prominent. A passing familiarity with France will greatly improve appreciation of the films finer points.

Having made that concession I will say that there is plenty of insight for foreigners and specifically an English audience. The subjects of the film express many of the same anxieties and interests as affect the English populace, issues such as immigration and unemployment.

A wide range of individuals are interviewed for the film. They visit factories, immigration centres, schools and farms.  They speak to people from all over the political spectrum including a rather tense sequence at a banquet for national front sympathisers.

Its particularly reassuring to see Muslim people offered the chance to decry the actions of extremists and express their fondness for France. Breaking the conventional images of Muslims as either helpless victims deserving of pity or enemies deserving of scorn is always valuable.

Cohn-Bendit makes for a compelling subject in and of himself. There’s a self awareness to the documentary and both men and their politics are also interrogated. Cohn-Bendit forcefully questions his subjects but is usually respectful and attentive to their responses. Only occasionally does it descend to two people shouting at each other, and usually for comedic effect.

La Traversée is a very interesting glimpse into the political mindset of a France that seems once again polarised. Although it is very specifically about France, it’s ruminations on nationalism and modernisation are relevant to all.

3.5 / 5

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