‘Return to Reims’: a brilliant film about how the French working class went over to the National Front

The last memory we kept of the actress Adèle Haenel was his angry rudeness at the 2020 César Awards gala. Shouting “What a shame!”, the actress of Portrait of a woman on fire, by Céline Sciamma, responded live to the applause given by French academics to Roman Polanski for the award for directing The officer and the spy. Shortly after, Haenel parked her film career disgusted with an industry that she branded as “reactionary, racist and patriarchal”.

Return to Reims (Fragments) is the exception to that folder. Adèle Haenel puts more than her voice to this brilliant documentary that starts from the homonymous essay by the philosopher and sociologist Didier Eribon, a successful autobiographical text in which Eribon, faced with the death of his father, undertook a settling of accounts with himself and returned to its working class and provincial roots. Eribon’s reflections are worth Jean-Gabriel Periot as a starting point to review the history of the French working class from the middle of the last century to the present, but from the voice of a woman who, guilty of her comfortable distance, observes the workers who preceded her.

A documentary, made of memory and remnants of archives and films, whose intimate and historical reconstruction delves into the reasons and contradictions that have ended up causing the working class to abandon the left to succumb to the embrace of the extreme right of Le Pen’s National Front. A trip to the past to understand the present from a voice that wonders about the footprint of his humble family, about the humiliation suffered by his grandmother, shaved and insulted in the public square for having maintained some kind of romantic relationship with a German officer during the Nazi occupation, or the gradual integration of his mother into the ultra-nationalist ideology before the arrival of a class even poorer and more marginalized than his own: that of immigrants.

Divided into two blocks and always clinging to that fragmented structure that can be seen from the subtitle, fragments, the documentary navigates between those remnants of a fabulous and compact patchwork audiovisual in which historical images of French cinema are added, especially in the second block, to the television archives that have been gaining ground since the 1970s. That is to say, together with the films of, among others, Jean Vigo, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Dimitri Kirsanoff, Germaine Dulac, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Henri Aisner, Chris Marker, Jean Rouch or Maurice Pialat, home videos or television interviews are incorporated of women talking about their work as housekeepers or their tasks as housewives.

If Périot’s earlier work, our losses (2019), was a failed May 68 catch-up attempt by a group of teenagers unable to answer questions about money, capitalism, property, or workers’ rights, Return to Reims he manages to combine a familiar, intimate and lyrical tone with a series of social and political issues that were already in his previous film and that do get their fatal answer here.

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Everything works in this terrible and too pertinent film, the voice in off by Adèle Haenel, the text and its correlate in images, which are not merely illustrative, but deepen, deepen and reinterpret Didier Eribon’s text as a song to the rearmament of a working class lost in its labyrinth.


Address: Jean-Gabriel Periot.

Gender: film essay. France, 2021.

Duration: 83 minutes.

Premieres: June 10.

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‘Return to Reims’: a brilliant film about how the French working class went over to the National Front