Les Chants de Mandrin by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche
Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s fourth film sets off in search of the followers of a famous 18th century brigand, revolutionary and smuggler, Louis Mandrin, loved by the people and feared by the powerful. After his death – he was dismembered in public - his friends continued his utopian project, creating a parallel economy across the French countryside.
Constantly pursued by the army, they stole merchandise from the rich and sold it cheaply to the peasants. They also wanted to spread Mandrin’s ideas, seeking, like apostles, to publish his writings in clandestine editions.
Les Chants de Mandrin opens up a historical and poetic perspective in RAZ’s work, enabling him to talk about the present world rather than simply illustrate a long gone era. It is his most optimistic film, doubtless for the simple reason that it is located in the past, in a period in which dreams, utopias, revolt and hope were still possible. However with its combination of poetic license and historical research, this remains a film of relevance to today.
The film contains remarkable work on the French language, with very contemporary resonance. If Dernier maquis recalled the Renoir who made Toni, here we have a direct descendant of La Marseillaise. And if Dernier maquis was a western-cum-chamber piece, like Hawks’ Rio Bravo, Les Chants de Mandrin has the same intoxicating feel for wide-open spaces, horseback riding, and life in the raw, as the films of Anthony Mann.Olivier Père