Tag Archives: experimental

The Children of Dora Maar School take control in Eric Baudelaire’s UN FILM DRAMATIQUE

It’s not that I don’t go see documentaries; I do, but usually I tend not to review them being I find that the medium, while visual, is more presentational and discursive rather than a strict narrative. Of course, for the past decade or so the medium has been morphing and delving into meta-narration, docu-fiction, and docs-dramas or a hybridization of visuals and exposition to create something completely new and challenging to the viewer. Eric Baudelaire’s Un Film Dramatique — Americanized as A Dramatic Film for its 2020 release — is one example. A movie I missed at the New York Film Festival, I managed to see it at The Contenders at the MoMA with barely a notion that it was a filming of the lives of a group of children at the new Dora Maar School in the outer limits of Paris, and that it played at Locarno to great acclaim. As a matter of fact, Festival Scope had it for a solid month in September in its Locarno section and I, occasional documentary watcher that I am, kept pushing it farther and farther back until it became unavailable until it made its second appearance at The Contenders. So, lucky me to have seen it and share it with you.

[For those of you who don’t know what The Contenders at the MoMA is, it is a screening of films that either premiered in the current year or were screened at film festivals around the world that bring a heavy quota of artistic value to cinema. It runs annually from November to January at the MoMA and I strongly urge movie lovers who aren’t aware of it go at least once and experience a new film or revisit one that somehow stuck in the memory for its bold visuals.]

Baudelaire began filming at the Dora Maar school what would have been a more traditional documentary (it seems), but eventually morphed into the movie that took on a life of its own. Twenty-one children for a period of about four years documented aspects of their own lives, sometimes in playful manners, other times in rather precocious discussions of class, race, politics (it becomes clear none of them care much for Marine Le Pen or our current sitting president), and the plight of immigrants in Paris where, much like here, if you do not have a reason to be in France you will be unceremoniously asked to leave. For such a large cast — we get introduced to them sometimes in groups, but sometimes in solo vignettes — Baudelaire assembles a rather colorful collage of living in the Seine-Saint Denis area of Paris, a jurisdiction often referred to by its administrative number 93, a number associated with ghetto, poverty, and low-income families. Some of the children — including friends Guy and David — are extremely outspoken, while one of the girls, Fatima, has no idea what to say to the camera and instead quietly films herself going about the day at home. Another group of girls wonder the fate of their friend who moved to a “place with palm trees” and debate to whether she may be still in France or perhaps the Caribbean. [It turns out, she moved to Reunion.]

This is a wonderful experimental film in which children express themselves in simple interactions with the camera and amongst themselves, and in a way, due to its time-lapse, could even have elements of a coming of age film. Often incisive as well as laugh out loud funny solely based on these incredibly bright, observant children, A Dramatic Film emerges as a commentary on what the future will be like once these kids grow into their adult selves. hoper Baudelaire will do something in the likes of Michael Apted’s ongoing, similar experimental Up series (now in its ninth iteration, 63 Up, which I will be reviewing once it makes its debut In theaters).


Director: Michal Marczak
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: Polish

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The documentary has slowly morphed into a narrative that could be a fluid as water, or as animated as a cartoon, with snippets of the real mixing seamlessly with the acted/performed. All These Sleepless NIghts, the debut film by Michal Marczak, falls under that large umbrella, something that you could call “experimental film” or “documentary – narrative fusion” in which we observe the story transpiring in fragmented pieces of time, played by actors playing versions of themselves, with the vaguest of definable plots unifying the entire product as whole. Sometimes it yields harrowing drama, and sometimes it can misfire. In this case, I’m going to remain somewhat in the middle of the two extremes because All These Sleepless Nights tackles topics of extreme hedonism, bromance gone wrong, and an aimlessness in life that I can’t quite relate to but find fascinating anyway.

So, onto the story per se: we come in, it seems, into the story in medias res, sort of at the end, with Krzysztof watching a display of fireworks from what seems to be a rather comfy Warsaw apartment. Soon later we get a sense of what happened for him to end up here; he was extremely close at point to his buddy Michal, so close that they may have almost hooked up together and lived in their own world of late-night debauchery, acts of defiance, and parties that seem to last forever. They walk around the city from event to event, discussing the type of things 20-somethings would. Somewhere along the way, Krzysztof hooks up with Eva, a waifish blonde who used to date Michal. The faintest of dents appear out of nowhere, possibly because of a sense of jealousy, perhaps? And off they go, in different tangents, Krzysztof into his own world of late-night chill out dancing and drugs; MIchal drops out of sight for a bit. When Krzyssztof breaks up with Eva he seeks Michal out but Michal either is still not too willing to take him back, or has moved on and is starting to get his act together. [After all, nights of endless partying can’t go on — life has to have a meaning, and while they both continually do discuss the meaning of it all through the early portions of the movie it’s clear they’re just dicking it around, behaving like fratboys out on the night, maybe getting into a little mayhem here or there.

My only guess is the director, Marczak,has tried to make a social commentary about the state of the youth today — in particular millennials — who seem to have no purpose but the here and now.  On one end there looks to be a fascination with that life; on the other, it’s less mere observance and more passive critique. Acquaintances form from thin air and vanish in seconds. It’s as if though life were a constant merry go round where everyone is trying to impress — but not to climb socially inasmuch to get the next high. It’s an interesting movie to see if you’re into chill out / late night lounge music, but the macho posturing that starts out somewhat insolent (and potentially dangerous; in one sequence the boys head into the metro tunnel to walk in between moving trains). There is a unsubtle nod to French New Wave. As a matter of fact this could have made a sharp little movie with its own social commentary. It premiered at New Directors – New Films and if you have an interest, please go catch it.