March 4, 2008
Ain't Scared, 2007
During the Q&A for Ain't Scared (Regarde-moi), Audrey Estrougo remarked that one of her motivations for making the film was to create a more authentic portrait of les cités - the low income housing neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city - that had become an all too convenient political target for all the social ills of France by then right wing candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy during the presidential election, especially in the aftermath of the 2005 civil unrest. Within this context, it should come as no surprise that Estrougo finds certain kinship with the films of Spike Lee in capturing the sense of entrapment, poverty, despair, and frustration that lead to these eruptions of violence. Composed as a two-part chronicle (with epilogue) of a day in the life of residents at a housing project - initially, from the perspective of the young men, then subsequently, from the young women in the neighborhood - Estrougo proposes that violence and social inequality are not overtly issues of racism, but rather, a broader symptom of underprivilege and disenfranchisement. Indeed, Estrougo subverts this convenient generalization in the early establishing shot of Yannick (Paco Boublard) receiving money inside a parked car before trying to catch a glimpse of his ex-girlfriend, Melissa (Djena Tsimba), his friend Jo (Terry Nimajimbe), who has been training for his debut with a professional soccer league, and even in the image of a bare-chested Mouss (Oumar Diaw) practicing an assortment of romantic overtures in front of a mirror that would later prove to actually succeed in seducing his girlfriend, Daphné (Salomé Stévenin). In contrast, the plight of the women is harsher and more restrictive: a reality that is foreshadowed in the film's black screen opening sequence as two women scandalously argue over the stealing of a lover (later identified as Melissa's mother and her neighbor) that ends with the slamming of a door, that is subsequently mirrored in the escalating rivalry between Jo's girlfriend, Julie (Emilie de Preissac) and Mouss's younger sister, Fatima (Eye Haidara) that dominates the second half of the film. Paradoxically, it is through this sobering glimpse of petty territoriality and jealousy that Estrougo not only reinforces the idea of violence as an integral reflection of poverty, dispossession, and exclusion, but also offers a semblance of hope and solidarity.