Too Naïve or not Honest Enough. Either Ways, it's a Flop!
Nabil Ben Yadir's "The March" was supposed to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the historical march that raised the voice of the second generation of North-African immigrants who. Amidst a wave of racist crimes, suspicious police blunders and a climate of economical crisis that mainly struck Arab and African populations, the marchers demanded equal rights as French citizens and fairer treatment for their foreign parents.
But despite Jamel 'De-Buzz' vocal marketing and buffoonish gesticulations in the film, despite another 'blessing' but curse in disguise from then French President Hollande, the silence in the theaters was more deafening and insightful than all the media hubbub it generated. The film was one of the most notable flops of the year, alimenting countless polemics and satisfying those who believed Arabs' integration failed, with the exception of a minority that accepted the "Republican rules", and distanced themselves from the patriarchal and religious burden of their roots.
"The March" didn't even try to treat this material to anticipate the critics, too busy to be a poor man's "Gandhi" or "Milk", while it could have been like Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus". The film would have been a triumph if it had considered the march, as a retrospective failure. Its very flop speak more words than the poor schmucks who went to see it. The film didn't fail to draw an audience it didn't have any. Assimilated Arabs wouldn't care about community pride, the others won't care about a march that ignores the religious shifts, worse, one praised by the government that ostracized them.
As if it wasn't enough, the film also was dismissed by the real actors who constantly denounced the movement's retrieval by the Socialist Party, accusing SOS Racism to be a left-wing puppet devoid of any 'Arab' weight. Most marchers became persona non grata or incognita, but the film avoided these 'embarrassing' inconveniences by choosing the easy way and being a mere fictionalization, apart from Olivier Gourmet who plays the priest of Minguette who initiated the march.
Fictionalization allows the cast to be a series of archetypes, the bad boy with a golden heart, the loudmouth with a scarf on her head yet insists that the march isn't religious, the fat boy bullied because his feet smell, there's also a lesbian whose presence is a cheap attempt to show that the film isn't zeroing in one community. The acting is good but the script is so paved with preachy lecturing, constantly referring to Gandhi or Martin Luther King that there's nothing unfolding on a human level, it's all about political and social claims and how they are justified by the course of events. And just when you can have a taste of complex cultural duplicity (with the lesbian or the 'white' member of the march), the film gets political again.
And French are getting a pretty rough deal. It seems like they are only capable of a binary conception of Arabs, which mirrors the director's over-simplification of complex matters. There are many acts of racism in this film, pigs' heads hanging with a 'Bon Appétit' sign, a rape attempt and finally, the swastika carved on a girl's back. Now, I had a problem with this one. Such things can happen and have happened but in the film, it creates a disturbing parallel between what the Arabs were getting through and the Jews' persecution, and it's not just inaccurate, it's counter-productive.
The film is entitled to play that game, but then it should play it fair. How come they don't go a hospital? Why don't they file a complaint? Why is there no investigation from the police guys who were tailing them? Not only it makes France look like Berlin in the early 30's, but the swastika incident is used as a sort of character-establishing moment, the group's epiphany, "this time it's personal!" It is treated in a cinematically amateur way that shows how desperate Ben Yadir is to make an impact at the expenses of realism. And that parallel backfires that Nazi specter is what ruined the Arab's image.
Indeed, the presence of Palestinian scarfs in the march alerted the establishment about the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism driven by anti-Israel sentiment. It is very known that the Socialist party have been close to pro-Israel associations, it doesn't take to be a conspiracy freak to establish that, these are non-denied facts. Until the 90's, Arabs and Blacks were still victim of stigmatization due to urban suburbs violence but September 11 deepened the shift and made new pariahs out of the Arabs. The scarf polemic, 'Charlie Hebdo' polemics didn't help.
Now, a film like "The Godfather" was praised for having the guts to seal the failure of the American Dream and established a new notion of tribal pride, of ethnic-centered values, although rooted in debatable practices. "The March" is a film that praises a Republican Dream that obviously failed, it seems to be in total denial and ignorance of the real diagnosis. Had it acknowledged that failure, had it enhanced the pride and the curse of being Arab or Muslims à la Coppola, it could have found the real answers to the problem. Or maybe it could have at least drawn more viewers to the theaters.
Arabs or Muslims are not immigrants like Polish or Italians were, ignoring religion was the biggest mistake. Maybe we're living a clash, not of civilizations, but universalized views, one liberal (USA), one driven by Human Rights (France and Europe) and one by Islam, and they're all colliding right now. The film could really deal with these problems in a more transparent way, instead of seeing everything under the prism of racist/non racist, good/bad, and going for the cheap effect, using Debbouze as a pathetic and pointless comic relief.
Either Ben Yadircouldn't embrace the reality of the march' failure or didn't want to, too much naivety or not enough honesty killed the film.
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