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Un(der)seen Cinema: La Commune

A six hour reenactment of the Paris Commune, Peter Watkins’ La Commune (2000) is a film both about the commune and about its own making, about the communal process of its actors learning the history and learning to live through that history, a masterpiece of cinema, politics, and demystifying the making of politics and cinema

We enlisted over 220 people from Paris and the provinces to take part in the film; approximately 60% of them had no prior acting experience. Among the cast were a number of people from Picardy and other regions of France, with specific dialects and accents (since many migrants from the provinces took an active role in the Commune). Through the conservative press in Versailles, and newspapers like Le Figaro, we also recruited people from the Paris area to join the project specifically because of their conservative politics (to act in roles opposed to the Commune).

The set in the disused factory was designed and constructed by Patrice Le Turcq as a series of interconnecting rooms and spaces, designed to represent the working class 11th district of Paris, a centre of revolutionary activity during the Commune. The set was carefully designed to ‘hover’ between reality and theatricality, with careful and loving detail applied for example to the texture of the walls, but with the edges of the set always visible, and with the ‘exteriors’ – the Rue Popincourt and the central Place Voltaire – clearly seen for what they are – artificial elements within an interior space…

…During the filming the cast were also engaged in a collective experience, constantly discussing – between themselves, and with myself and members of the team led by Agathe Bluysen – what they would say, how they might feel, and how they would react to the events of the Commune which were about to be filmed….The results of all of these discussions were then placed – or emerged spontaneously – within the scenes which were filmed in long, uninterrupted sequences, following the chronological order of the events of the Commune.

-Peter Watkins

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