La Commune (paris, 1871)

Peter Watkins’s 1999 made-for-TV film about the revolutionary Paris Commune formed in 1871 offers a stunning lesson in understanding the past in relation to the present. Using contemporary talk-show and TV-news reporting techniques, Watkins shot the 345-minute film in only 13 days in an abandoned Paris factory. His cast consisted of 220 Parisians and illegal aliens from North Africa, most of whom had no acting experience, and he got them to do their own research on the Paris Commune and to collaborate in the construction of their characters and dialogue (in late scenes these actors, still in costume, discuss the relevance of the Commune to their own lives and contemporary issues). In some ways this work is more fascinating as an idea than in its execution. But it’s full of exciting moments and very effectively shot, in black and white and with extended mobile takes. In French with subtitles. (JR)

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