GETTING INTO THE ANARCHISTS
As well as the classics, we'll also be looking in depth at a few newer movies that may have flow under your radar that deserve some attention. Neon Marquee's newest contributor Mark Vanselow takes a look at The Anarchists.
Anarchy is an ideal that is explored seldomly in the realm of popular entertainment, probably because most people (storytellers included) have no idea what anarchy is really all about. When most folks speak of anarchy, they intend it to be synonymous with violence, chaos, destruction and lack of responsibility, as opposed to what it really means--a social structure that favours individual freedom and nurtures voluntary cooperation at the expense of state-mandated authoritarianism and master-servant relationships.
Set in the year 1899 in France, The Anarchists (2015) is one of those all too rare motion pictures about the anarchist cause. At the centre of the story is Jean (Tahar Rahim), an undercover police agent, whose accepts a potentially dangerous assignment to infiltrate a local revolutionary group. Jean is presented as an apolitical type, who undertakes the clandestine task to simply further his career in the constabulary. Through his involvement in the group’s activities, Jean learns about the noble motivations of the anarchists—even if some of the methods employed to reach their desired goal are morally dubious—and falls under the spell of anarchist firebrand Judith (Adèle Exarchopolous). The intensity of Judith’s anarchist convictions is made clear in a monologue that paraphrases an obscure letter written in 1902 by real-life American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre to Senator Joseph Hawley, who offered one thousand dollars to take a shot at an anarchist. Judith, like Voltairine (to whom she bears a strong physical resemblance--coincidence?), is willing to stand before her most dangerous adversaries, even if it means staring down the barrel of a loaded pistol. These anarchists mean serious business—will Jean be able to maintain his ruse long enough to bring down the subversives, or will he be discovered for the impostor that he is—and what impact shall it have upon his burgeoning romance with Judith?
An earnest cinematic valentine to the anarchist spirit, co-written and directed by Elie Wajeman, The Anarchists appeared at the Cannes Film Festival (2015). Unfortunately, the reviews it received coming out of Cannes were lukewarm at best. I would suggest that potential viewers of The Anarchists politely ignore such appraisals and take a look at this fine motion picture, especially if one has an interest in its subject matter. Admittedly, it doesn’t provide a potted history of the anarchist movement circa the late nineteenth century, but it does manage to be an engaging period drama, one that renders an honest portrayal of anarchists, in both action and thought. And given how badly anarchism has been misrepresented in popular media over the past one hundred and something years, movies such as The Anarchists are most welcome.
Unlikely to receive a general release in Australia, The Anarchists is currently playing at various locations across the country as part of the French Film Festival. If you live in Melbourne or Sydney, you’ve missed it on the big screen, yet filmgoers in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra still have a chance to catch it before the festival reaches it conclusion.
Written by Mark Vanselow