Indignados: Berlin Film Review

Outrage protest docudrama is long on ideals, short on context.

The docudrama from director Tony Gatlif is inspired by 94-year-old pamphleteer Stephane Hessel’s bestselling essay, "Time for Outrage."

The message does not quite fit the medium in Indignados, an activist docudrama from Tony Gatlif (Latcho Drom, Exils) that was “freely inspired” by 94-year-old pamphleteer Stephane Hessel’s bestselling essay, Time for Outrage! Cutting between fictional scenes of an African immigrant trying to scrape by in an unwelcoming Europe, and real-life footage of various protests movements in Spain, France and Greece, the film provides some memorable visuals backed by Gatlif’s usual spirited soundtrack, but its oversimplified social-political diatribe seems destined for a choir of Euro 99 percenters. Arthouse sales and offshore fest play should assure further placarding for this Berlin Panorama entry.

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Entitled Indignez-vous!, Hessel’s 32-page pamphlet was originally published in France in 2010, and has since been translated into over ten languages (including Spanish, which is how the country’s Occupy-style movement, Indignados, got its name). Calling for Frenchmen to rise up and reject a status quo dominated by ultra-rich conservatives and all-powerful investment banks, the text also highlighted the abusive treatment suffered by illegal immigrants who arrive on Gallic shores in search of a better life.

Taking Hessel’s words à la lettre by using supertitled quotations to accompany the action at all times, Gatlif presents a loosely constructed narrative about a young African woman, Betty (also the actress’ only credited name), who painfully makes her way across Europe as a series of anti-capitalist rallies rock the continent’s major cities. Arriving in Greece only to be picked up by the cops, fingerprinted and released, she eventually makes her way to Paris, and ultimately to Madrid, where she comes face to face with activists calling for an overhaul of Spain’s market-dominated society.

Yet despite what seem to be good intentions, Gatlif remains forever stuck on the surface of events, failing to reveal anything specific about Betty or the Outrage movement in general. When he attempts to illustrate his propos, he does so either extremely bluntly (e.g. footage of a fox attacking a henhouse), or else through directorial flights of fancy (e.g. a flamenco dancer being showered with protest flyers) that resemble scenes out of an experimental student film. Certain all-encompassing slogans like “Earth is not a commodity” and “I want everything for everyone” don’t really help further the cause.

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It’s unfortunate, because the vet Algerian-born director otherwise showcases plenty of energy here, using his roving HD camera to capture images of Europe’s forgotten underclass of striving immigrants. The scenes set in the slums and docks of Athens are particularly potent in that sense, making one long for a straightforward documentary that could reveal such a world in detail without trying to ram a message down the viewer’s throat.

As typical with many a Gatlif film, the rich soundtrack and sound design mixes music and ambience to engrossing effect.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Production companies: Princes Production, Eurowide, Herodiade, Rhones-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Betty, Fiona Monbet, Nawel Ben Kraiem, Eric Gonzalez Herrero
Director: Tony Gatlif
Screenwriter: Tony Gatlif, freely inspired by Stephane Hessel’s book Time for Outrage!
Producer: Delphine Mantoulet
Directors of photography: Colin Houben, Sebastien Saadoun
Production designer: Joh Geun-hyun
Music: Delphine Mantoulet, Valentin Dahmani, Tony Gatlif
Editor: Stephane Pedelacq
Sales Agent: Les Films du Losange
No rating, 88 minutes