By Mónica Delgado
The most combative film in all this edition of Cannes came in hand with the emblematic Lech Kowalski. If it’s indeed true that in this eleven-day journey, certain demonstrations of a militant and political cinema had appeared with two Latin American filmmakers (Patricio Guzmán and Juan Solanas), in Blow it to bits (On va tout péter) we finally got some room for the workers’ voice.
In Blow it to bits, American filmmaker Lech Kowalski focuses (as it is usual in his cinema) in the journeys of struggle, strikes and repressions of a group of workers from the car factory La Souterraine, under GM&S property, who have been fired. Kowalski becomes one of the group, breathing side to side with the union leaders and joining them with a hand-held camera, witness of the actions taken to restitute their jobs or to avoid the dissolution of the company. It should be said, that the filmmaker doesn’t convert his film in a tale about the bureaucracy of union fights, but provides the struggle with intimacy, a show of interaction between different actors with different points of view, which have to join forces in order to solve a situation of unemployment and crisis without fears.
Kowalski is a filmmaker that has always worked on social topics from an inescapable freedom, welcomed as an ally inside of marginal and counter-cultural communities (from punks to workers) to give voice to the others. He was the great documentarian of passages by the Sex Pistols or The Ramones (D.O.A. for example) or of young punks like in The Boot Factory. In this little but immense film, presented in the Quinzaine des Realizateurs, the filmmaker achieves an epic where the camera, as a character, becomes a total element immersed in the struggle itself. Thus, the film not only poses the description of a labor issue in a France in crisis (the factory closes because it’s cheaper to do the same in an Asian country) but also symbolizes this immersion of cinema as an ally to transmit, live, tales of exclusion from the power of documentary filmmaking.
There’s a sequence in Blow it to bits, where we see how the workers are thrown out by force by the police, where they are trampled, pulled, treated like packages needed to be disposed of from an uncomfortable space. And in some moment in this passage, the police takes Kowalski and his camera as well, showing this frontier that the filmmaker has managed to dissolve, the one of cinema as part of this struggle, not as an external agent, and of cinema itself as a witness from the inside, of this film that shows a Lech Kowalski fully coherent with the motives of his cinema, admirable and unscathed.
Quinzaine des Realizateurs
Director, script, cinematography: Lech Kowalski
Editing: Lech Kowalski , Odile Allard
Music: Sal Bernardi
France, 2019, 109 mins