• French Competition


Pierre-Edouard Dumora

Pierre-Edouard Dumora
“November 2009. I am walking from the apartment where I grew up, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, to the power transformer at Clichy-sous-Bois where Zyed, Benna and Bouna Traoré were burnt to death on October 27th 2005, as they were being chased by the police. Their deaths sparked off the suburds riots of 2005. From the upmarket area where I lived to the transformer is a 4-hour walk.” Soberly, it is with these few words that Pierre-Edouard Dumora presents his film. His move is therefore primarily performative. Four years after the events, this was a pilgrimage, a homage bespeaking a profoundly personal necessity -which is made obvious through the concision of his description- and a necessity which is both cryptic as well as imperious, that is ultimately impersonal. It was only some twelve years later -a maturation process which compounds the first one- that this became a film. Fitting into a 30-minute span, the long walk across Paris is evocative of a hurried pace. Here the voiceless shots are permeated by written texts that make us recount the course of history: police radio messages, excerpts from the trial leading to the exoneration of prosecuted policemen, testimony by the only survivor. Le Transformateur is the kind of work that, once out there, will not deviate from the single line it has decided to draw, with unflinching precision and speed, with a sense of the implacable that, paradoxically, still screams silently against the lies of fate.
(Jean-Pierre Rehm)

Interview with Pierre Edouard Dumora

On October 27th 2005, two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, died of electrocution in a transformer in Clichy-sous-Bois, as they tried to escape the police. A third person, Muhittin Altun, was also injured. In 2009, you travelled from your appartment in Paris to the transformer. The film was born in 2021. Why this delay, and why was it necessary to finish it now ?
Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré’s deaths are among the founding elements of my adults life. I was 25 at the time, I had never shot a single film, I was in law school, and I lived in a reality far removed from theirs. The initial 2009 march was an instinctive gesture. For a long time, I did not want to edit this 4-hour long tracking shot. I wanted to keep the length but I was also aware of how it could be somewhat trying for the viewer. Having no solution, I put the film aside. But it never let go of its hold on me in the following years. It came back to haunt me, depending on what was going on in the news and my own life. The original necessity was unchanged : I had to finish it. In the current context of social hardening, police violence, and unbridled racist speech, I first tried to cut into the 4-hour shot. As soon as I put title shots on the image, I felt that the film could find its form.

You follow the itinerary on foot. This is a performance that brings in your body, which nevertheless remains invisible. How did you decide to follow this path ?
The performative dimension is at the basis of the project. Faced with the images and the pre-established discourses, I could find no words. Only the simplicity of walking allowed me to apprehend the subject matter’s complexity. The 16th arrondissement and the transformer in Clichy-sous-Bois embody two poles of french society and social representations. By linking those two points, by experiencing in my body the distance separating the two, I intended to physically measure a distance that is socially unbridgeable.

You explicitly start at your place, at night, having spent some time on some pictures. Why ?

I wanted the point of view to be clear. To know where I’m leaving from, and where I’m talking from. The photographs you mention show my sister, my brother, and me. These pictures of us as kids happened to be lying on the living room table. With the flashlight, in the appartment, I was somewhat like a burglar in my own life. The project is tied to childhood. It’s about children who were unable to become adults.

The journey took four hours, which you feel is too long for the film. You therefore reduced it to 35 minutes. How did you edit the film ? Why choose certain sections, certain areas to keep, and not others ?
I edited the film alone, over the course of the three lockdowns, in the dark, half-asleep. Reducing it from four hours to 35 minutes allowed me to keep the energy of walking. The three parts I absolutely wanted to keep were leaving the appartment, crossing the périphérique (the Paris ring road), and the arrival in Clichy-sous-Bois and the transformer. For the rest, I quickly focused on the people whose paths I crossed or followed. Anonymous faces that tell stories, like their clothes, their gazes which form the everyday stuff of a territory.

Information about the events and their consequences appear onscreen, as if warding off the images. Could you explain the choices you made about this ?
Finding the right tone for the text was the hardest thing, a real balancing act. The text as it is written today came late in the editing. It is the 2015 ruling (which lets off the two policemen) that provided the factual basis for the film. I wanted to be as precise as possible, to zoom in on forgotten details, in order to understand the event. From this point of view the film almost takes the shape of an enquiry. By confronting the police’s radio messages and the testimony of the tragedy’s only survivor, I wanted to give multiple points of view. Those are the voices that give the film its structure.

The soundtrack is composed of urban sounds, of your breath, and of a musical acme. How did you think of and work on the soundtrack ?

Sound was a key element from the outset. With the help of a sound engineer, I built a bi-aural sound system by clipping two omnidirectional clip-on microphones near my ears. The objective was to render what I heard spatially, in order to give the film an immersive dimension. I then composed the music by improvising based on the images. They already had a musical dimension, with the breathing giving them a tempo. I wanted to create different sound environments, with moments of transe, during which you enter another time flow. The musical acme is a piece by Maggi Payne. I chose it for its cosmic dimension. The fire of the riots was already a send-back to something more distant, almost cosmic; an ancestral struggle for life.

Europa 2005 – 27 octobre, by Straub and Huillet, explicitly presented itself, in its short format and its having been directed so soon after the events, as a ciné-tract. How would you qualify the way you return to these tragic events ?

I’m not sure I could qualify my film in the same way, due to the number of years separating the initial march from today. Maybe what’s important is this relationship to time : an exploration of what cristallises the intimate memory of an event, when faced with forgetting. The 16 years that separate us from the events enable a reflexive and retrospective dimension concerning this recent history. The ghosts of this tragic chase have never ceased to reappear, from the 2015 terrorist attacks to today’s police violence. The film is about this residue that does not go away, that is there, silent, buried within bodies. Even when we try and forget it, it comes back to haunt us.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • French Competition

Technical sheet

France / 2021 / 35’

Original Version : No diologues.
Subtitles : French.
Script : Pierre-Edouard Dumora.
Photography : Pierre-Edouard Dumora.
Editing : Pierre-Edouard Dumora.
Sound : Pierre-Edouard Dumora.
Production : Pierre-Edouard Dumora.
Filmography : L’Enfant au Diamant, 2021. The Peacekeeper, 2017. We, The Sorcerers, 2015. Evil Men Do, 2014. Family Galaxy, 2009. What the Blind See, 2009. Le Bijou, 2006.