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Mourir à trente ans (English subtitles): A Radical Left in 68 and Post-68 France.

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(Having just found the film available on YouTube…)

Mourir à trente ans by  Romain Goupil recounts his adolescence and the life of  Michel Recanati, and the tumult of 1968. Goupil grew up in the la cité Montmartre-aux-artistes (rue Ordener, 18e arrondissement de Paris. A rebel at school, Goupil became attracted to the radical left, arguing with his father, a member of the Communist Party (PCF), who ridiculed leftist “groupuscules”. He became a member of the la Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire (JCR) where he met Recanati. During 68 his friend became a leading figure in the secondary school student movement, Les Comité d’actions lycéens (CAL). In the run up and during the May events his activism extended from his own lycée (from which he was suspended) to the streets bursting with demonstrations. The film memorably shows footage of the CAL, its strike committees at work, and the huge secondary school cortèges on the Paris marches. As a general strike told hold, in united protests they marched alongside the university students, the March 22 movement, and education unions.

Dotted with clips from the period, interviews, reading from his own unfinished writings, Michele’s documents, music of the time, we travel from the JCR to the Ligue Communiste and the Marxist culture it promoted. Inspired by ’68 the two friends became engaged in building a “real revolutionary party” in this “pre-revolutionary period”. as the Ligue began talking of creating its own ‘workers’ militia and carried out small exemplary direct action protests. Mourir à trente ans evokes the “appereil clandestin” and the “Service d’ordre” (Stewards) in its portrayal, had the insurrectional bent alleged in books such as Les Trotskistes by Christophe Nick (2002).

Many of their activities look today more like stunts than attempts at armed revolution. Following its leading figures, such as Alain Krivine, their operations often expressed solidarity with the Vietnamese fight. The two friends, with a group that included Daniel Bensaïd threw paint over the visiting South Vietnam President. It was when they confronted the far right that their street activity went further. Both Goupil and Recanati were engaged in a serious, and often physical, campaign against the far-right “des combats très violents de 1971 et 1973 contre l’extrême-droite“). The LC’s target was principally the successor of Occident, a fascist ‘national revolutionary’ group that had fought students in 1968, with iron bars and hand weapons, Ordre Nouveau.

After a big street battle against Ordre Nouveau in 1973 the Ligue communiste was dissolved. It reformed as the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire in 1974.

The film ends with the suicide of Michel Recanati in March 1978.

The film is significant, both for its direct reach, and its innovative documentary technique. It is intensely moving.

For this writer, who has lived opposite la Cité Montmartre-aux-artistes, and who spent some years in the 1970s in the UK International Marxist Group (IMG) which was strongly influenced, politically and culturally, by the LCR, and who knows at first hand this part of the French left, it resonates deeply.

Half a Life (Mourir À Trente Ans) by Romain Goupil.

Los Angeles Filmforum 2018)

Perhaps the best film about the May 1968 left-wing uprising in Paris (and its dispiriting aftermath), Romain Goupil’s autobiographical documentary draws upon his own ample you-are-there film footage, shot over 12 years as events unfolded. Goupil intercuts this old footage with newer material to pay tribute to his friend and fellow revolutionary Michel Recanati, a militant leader who went missing and eventually committed suicide. This winner of the Caméra d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival is undistributed in the U.S., so don’t miss seeing it in a DCP from France that is temporarily in North America.

Rarely seen in the United States, Romain Goupil’s documentary chronicles his and his friends’ firsthand experiences as militant, teenage Trotskyites in 1960s France during the heyday of French student movements that culminated with the events of May 1968. Michel Recanati was a part of Goupil’s activist entourage who committed suicide in 1978. Prompted by his death, Goupil crafts a vibrantly raw autobiographical essay-style film that uses found footage and a range of sources including photographs, home movies, and interviews. Drawing on Recanati’s life trajectory to structure the film, Goupil succeeds in evoking the implosion of the leftist movement in 1960s and 1970s France while also constructing a filmic meditation on the transition from adolescence to adulthood during this tumultuous historical moment.

“Romain Goupil’s Mourir a 30 ans (Half a Life) recalls the history of the youngest end of the extra-parliamentary French left in the late 60s/early 70s from a perspective that is equally personal and political. Using interviews, documentary footage, and the films Goupil made during his youth, the movie recounts Goupil’s own experiences in the political movements leading up to and following from May ’68, as well as pays tribute to his friend and comrade, Michel Recanati, whom Goupil worked alongside in politics for many years but who surprisingly committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 30. An unruly child from a middle-class leftist family, Goupil became involved in politics early in his teens (perhaps around the age of 14), joining the Trotskyite JCR (Jeunesses Communistes Revolutionnaires) after quickly becoming disillusioned with the French Communist Party’s complacency. The JCR provided Goupil an early education in Marxism-Leninism, and brought him together with other militant young students who would become long-term comrades, including Recanati. Political activism in his school led to Goupil’s suspension, and, despite student protests in response, his expulsion, but Goupil refused to become any less political while “maturing” at another school. Goupil’s father was in the film industry, so Goupil had access to a camera from an early age and obsessively filmed the events in his life or recreated them in Truffaut-esque fictional versions.

“Mourir a 30 ans draws heavily on this personal archive to tell the story of Goupil’s political coming of age, which is also a history of the JCR and the groups that flowed into and out of it. By May ’68, Goupil was merely 17, but, along with his equally young militant peers, had already accumulated years of experience of political organizing, including acting as a bodyguard for the Black Panthers when they visited Paris and sojourning in Berlin amongst the German New Left. During the events of May, Goupil and Recanati played leading roles in the Comités d’action lycées (CAL), which brought secondary students into the revolutionary movement. Using rare footage he shot, Goupil recounts the disconnect he felt at the beginning of that month as he went from street fighting one day to sitting in a classroom the next. As is the case with most films on May ’68, Goupil’s memorializing of those revolutionary days occasionally slips into nostalgia and privileges self-aggrandizement at the expense of historical insight, such as when Goupil focuses on a series of images that place himself and Recanati at the center of the events.

“In the months following May, the fight to continue the movement devolved into a power struggle amongst the different political groups, though Recanati would remain a significant leader for the younger organizations. The film documents how both young men over the next few years continued to participate in rallies and protests, as well as illegal direct actions such as bombing embassies with paint. After an organization led by Recanati violently clashed with police at an anti-fascist rally, Recanati was given a three-month prison sentence and briefly fled underground. As Goupil frames it, the political limits of the period brought out Recanati’s personal limits, the fragility lurking underneath his bold facade, which in an unknown manner transformed Recanati’s optimism about changing his life into his premature termination.” – Brian Rajski, http://retentionalfinitude.blogspot.com/2011/04/romain-goupil-mourir-30-ans-half-life.html?m=1

Romain Goupil supported Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 Presidential election,but has been quiet about the President this year.

Goupil has been prominent backing Ukraine against the Russian invasion, spending some weeks in Kiev earlier this year (Romain Goupil : « Arrêtons Poutine maintenant et définitivement. Armons les Ukrainiens ! ».)

Written by Andrew Coates

August 10, 2022 at 5:02 pm