This is a must-have classic
It is remarkable that this is the first review of Misere au Borinage (Ellende in de Borinage). Perhaps it is not yet generally known that since 2008 this film is available on DVD, as part of a 5-DVD box covering Joris Ivens complete works. Or it may be a shortage of European reviewers on the site. Also the USA has never had a strong social-democrat tradition and it seems highly likely that the states have banned the film for most of the time. On the other hand during the Second World War Ivens was allowed to make several films in America, among other about the electrification during Roosevelts New Deal. But then again, during that time half left-wing Europe was in the USA for some time: for instance Bertold Brecht, Oskar Lange, Theodor Adorno, Hanns Eisler spring to my mind. The film Borinage was enormously popular in the social-democrat communities of in particular Holland, Belgium, and France. It made a victory tour through the circuit of social-democrat peoples houses and cinemas. In Europe the film is mentioned in the same breath with for instance those of Eisenstein. In fact the "modern" film cult of the social-democrats has been congenial to the Soviet cinema. The film Borinage was made in 1934 by Joris Ivens and Henri Storck. It is a documentary (without sound, but with intermediary explaining texts) about the strikes of the miners in the Borinage coal mining region (the French-speaking part of Belgium, you know, somewhere on the map above France), during the year 1932. The misery of this theme forced the film team to take sides, and they positioned themselves on the left wing of the social-democrats and close to the communists. After the Second World War Joris Ivens remained loyal to his profile as radical director. Now that you have got an impression of the general atmosphere, let us turn to the contents of the film. Already for several years the wages of the miners decreased as a consequence of the Great Depression. The safety regulations were below par and 204 miners of the Borinage died due to accidents in 1932 alone. Employment was low and the poverty was bitter. The communist party, that has always been strong in this area, and the unions organized strikes, which at their climax included 210.000 miners. The atmosphere got grim as many strikers could no longer pay their rents and were thrown out of their houses. They were then housed in barracks that resemble the contemporary slums in the third world (no drinking water etc.). Although the coal piled up near the mines, the workers themselves lacked the fuel to heat their dwellings. This misery is filmed with care and compassion by the film team. Interesting for you may be the shot of a meeting of the Steel&Metal Workers Industrial Union at Ambridge (Pensylvenia 1933), at the start of the film. While admitting that the workers carry sticks it is shocking to see them confronted with a large band of guards, armed with riot guns. The demonstration ends in a cloud of tear gas, and some injured or dead. I guess you have understood the message: this film of 34 minutes duration is a must-have classic. In addition most of the work of Ivens is extraordinary and the complete 5-DVD box is worth seeing. It contains for instance a reportage about the Vietnam war, with North-Vietnamese farmers seeking shelter from the air raids in trenches. This part makes Apocalypse Now look bleak. And there is the reportage of workers corporations during the Cultural Revolution of Mao. The availability of such shots is rare even here in Europe. There are also beautiful coverages about nature, for instance the river Seine in Paris. For all (new) Ivens lovers, I will from time to time give IMDb-reviews about some of his coverages. If their titles are lacking in the database, I will put the reviews right here.
- Aug 7, 2010
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