The film Jean Jaures (naissance d'un geant) describes the rise of the French left-wing politician jean Jaures. I like the film because of its versatility. The events bridge the transition from the European dictatorships of the nineteenth century to the full-grown democracies of the twentieth century. It shows the development of the labour movement, from the first anarchist attempts to the professional institutions. And it portrays the removal of the last remnants of feudalism. After the failed Commune of Paris in 1870 France had been politically unstable for several decades. Jaures started his career as a radical (liberal) politician, and became the parliamentary representative of the district Castres (his native place). Later he loses this position, when the peasants prefer a more conservative candidate. In 1892 the miners in Carmaux (Castres) elect a colleague as their burgomaster. Subsequently the local marquis, who owns the mine, discharges the burgomaster, because he abhors the election of workmen in governmental positions. This leads to a general strike among the miners, who demand the reinstatement of their former colleague. Jean Jaures rallies to their protest, and even defends a union leader in court. The regional prefect sends in the military police in order to suppress the demonstrations (which admittedly were rather violent in these days). This is the most thrilling part of the story, because there is the continuous threat of escalation. The marquis stirs the unrest, and tries to provoke the unions (syndicats). When the disturbances seem to become a national affair, the French president intervenes, and forces the marquis to back down. In the mean time, Jaures is convinced that the class struggle is vital for the liberation of the workers, and therefore has become a socialist. At the time the socialists were divided into four different groups, of which the marxist Parti Ouvrier (founded by Guesde and Lafargue, Marx son-in-law) was the most important. In the film the study of Jaures is decorated with portraits of Marx, but actually Jaures was a libertarian and never a marxist. He joined the Independants, who actually were not a party but an electoral association, Unlike the other socialists, who advocated sectarian politics, Jaures tried to unite the isolated socialist currents. And in 1905 this reconciliation was finally accomplished in the SFIO (Section Francaise de l'Internationale Ouvriere). The film shows the speeches of Jaures both in 1893, when he is elected as a parliamentary representative of the socialists, and in 1905, during the foundation of the SFIO. I really liked these fairly extensive scenes, since they highlight Jaures principles and political goals. However, for those viewers who are not interested in politics, these last fifteen minutes may be a bit boring to watch. Still it is mainly a film about the struggle for miners rights, and trade unions. As such it fits in with all those other famous titles: Kameradschaft, Germinal, Subterra, Matewan, or the more recent Harlan County War. And if you appreciate documentaries about the eighties: Harlan County USA and The Miners Campaign Tapes. You may consider seeing my other reviews.
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