In the 2016 film Swagger (newly out on Mubi), by Parisian filmmaker Olivier Babinet, an undercurrent of fictionalized plotlines pulls the story through the surface of reality. As a storyteller, Babinet has developed a potent strategy to render the lives of children and teenagers — who recall events with exaggeration and fervent emotion — by building out their imaginative tales. His approach presents a novel documentary methodology, one that can truly illuminate the way we depict the world.
Swagger is the collective story of eleven youths negotiating growing up in Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the most underserved communes in France. The neighborhood is less than nine miles from France’s Kilometre Zero, at the entrance of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, but socio-economically it is light years away. The cultural chasm dividing Aulnay-sous-Bois from Paris has created a bubble of crime and destitution for the inhabitants of Aulnay-sous-Bois, or “Aulnaysiens.”
The Aulnay-sous-Bois of today rose around a Citroën automobile factory that opened in the early 70s. The city pushed to urbanize the neighborhood to satisfy the expected need for shelter from workers and managers at the plant. Copious low-income “housing estates” were erected with the expectancy to house 24,000 people. According to the 2007 census, 29% of the population of Aulnay-sous-Bois lived in these housing estates that topographically covered 4% of the territory. The factory closed in 2014.
Today, Aulnay-sous-Bois harbors a large immigrant population. Their strained relationship with French white citizens, who the children of Swagger refer to as “French stock,” further pushes Aulnaysiens from normal citizenship and exacerbates growing racism, bigotry, and fear in the face of national instability. Notorious for its violent riots in response to police and government stigmatization of minorities in 2005, the commune more recently has reacted with protests against other horrendous cases of police brutality, such as an officer sodomizing a 21-year-old victim with a baton in order to “handcuff him more easily.”
To read the rest of Garwood’s discussion of Swagger, go to Riot Material magazine: https://www.riotmaterial.com/olivier-babinets-swagger/
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