MyFrenchFilmFestival review – ‘Swagger’

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‘Swagger’ is a documentary film that interviews eleven different young people in one of the most deprived suburbs of Paris. The subjects seem to speak freely to camera, and the conversation points range from playground politics to real world politics. The children and young teenagers talking are witty and intelligent in their remarks about their own lifestyle. If there are set questions, these have been removed in the edit, because the film does a very good job at blending all of the spoken responses together in a way that seems natural.

The only real disappointment in the film comes from the staged sequences used to show what each subject describes. The naturalistic shots of the other subjects overlaying the speech audio works well – as does the footage of the surrounding environment (the school, the field, the towerblocks etc). What is at times jarring and perhaps even unnecessary, is the set-up conversations or interactions within the community. Some of these are a little too rehearsed to resemble a truth.

Through it is a work of fiction rather than a doc, what is so great about Sean Baker’s ‘The Florida Project’ is that it shows the experience of children at their level and through their eyes. I only wish that were the case in ‘Swagger’. Instead, the ambitious aerial work and drone shots try too hard to give an all encompassing overview of the area.

The shots that work the best are on the ground. When the camera is placed with the young people talking to camera, it feels legitimate and we can start to understand their ideas and hear their experience. We see some low-level architecture as well as interiors. The school lockers are colourful and there are brief moments of vibrance in an otherwise grey high rise atmosphere.

You can tell that director Olivier Babinet is a music video director. There are sequences here that give impressions of short episodes. That said, the editing and pace of the film is thoughtful. The slow pace gives room to let the utterances of the subjects breathe. Their talk of religion, culture and fashion in regards to identity is interesting.

There are a lot of ideas at play here. The filmmakers should be praised for weaving together the different conversations in both video and audio editing/mixing. The stories told are sometimes related, but nearly always tell vastly different experiences. The most interesting part is how the teenager’s identities intersect at different points in discussion of politics, religion, social background, and aspirations. A unique watch.

‘Swagger’ is one of many titles available as a part of MyFrenchFilmFestival, a celebration of French cinema running 19th January – 19th February 2018

>Zach Roddis | [rating=3]

Documentary | France, 2016 | NC |MyFrenchFilmFestival |Dir.Olivier Babinet | Aïssatou Dia, Mariyama Diallo, Abou Fofana