Laurent Cantet throws himself back into the 48-hour Mehdi Meklat affair

Laurent Cantet revisits the Mehdi Meklat case in a sharp fiction that reflects his time, especially by questioning social networks, their mechanisms and their dangers.

At the origin ofArthur Rambothe new film of Laurent Cantetis there a case that made headlines in France in early 2017, where the author, blogger and columnist Mehdi Meklattreasure of the Parisian media, also turned out to be the author, under the pseudonym Marcelin Deschamps, hateful tweets with racist, homophobic or even anti-Semitic content. This story chose the director, as he had done for Jean-Claude Romand in The schedule, to grasp it with the distance of fiction. And to be associated with Karim D. (Rabah Nait Oufella), a young writer destined for success, the same day he was a guest on the prestigious TV show @Prefacesees himself overtaken by murderous messages posted under the name Arthur Rambo, which nickname gives his title to the film, as to better denote the character’s schizophrenia.

Any resemblance to human beings that has existed is, for once, by no means accidental, as Laurent Cantet readily agreed, met in November last year on the occasion of the Arras Film Festival: “What triggered the desire for the film was Mehdi Meklat, this young man who has more or less the same background as my hero, who is destined to become a writer recognized by the intelligentsia, by the world of culture. And which in a few hours is reduced to the role of pariah of tweets that stand out. I knew him, after reading him in the Bondy blog, where he talked about the suburbs and where he interviewed politicians with a bite and an intelligence that I really liked. I had also heard him a lot on the radio, where he and Badrou discussed political issues as well as the movie he had seen the day before, and where I always thought he was someone who had a well-made head. And one morning I discovered in the newspapers the tweets that had appeared, and I asked myself the question that several in the film ask him, which reads: “How can this be gathered in the same spirit? How can one have both this clairvoyance and this stupidity? ” And I said to myself that it was worth investigating this issue precisely. Especially since it refers to something that I think is very urgent to do. Social networks occupy an ever-increasing place in the lives of many people, in the intimate, social, political space, and I have the impression that they are being questioned a bit. We use them, it’s shiny and it’s nice to think that we’re connected to the whole world, and at the same time there is very little question about their function and their dangers. It’s important to do that now, because I think they will continue to intervene more and more in our lives.

Karim (Rabah Naït Oufella) and his little brother Farid (Bilel Chegrani): a sense of betrayal.
Karim (Rabah Naït Oufella) and his little brother Farid (Bilel Chegrani): a sense of betrayal. © National

The other side of the ring road ‘

Like the one played by Aurélien Recoing in The schedule, Karim D./Arthur Rambo appears as a two-sided charactera figure clearly appreciated by Laurent Cantet, who emphasizes how much she refers to human complexity: “ I’m not sure we are all very consistent in our attitudes, in our way of life. These characters, who may have false bottoms, interest me because they ask questions and because they are very good fiction vectors. Going behind the mask is of course very rich and exciting.“The following is especially a question of distance that is adopted for Arthur Rambo allows to escape the limitations of biopic a little sterile, the director tightens the subject in 48 hours, or those who see Karim D. go from the peak of his orbit to his fall, a way of focusing on the mechanisms that work more than on the historical stricto sensu. Not without making sure to maintain some empathy for the character, without acquitting him – “That was really the question, that is, how to create a character that we still want to follow through a film, but without protecting him“- , the scandalous tweets, (re) written by the director and his two co-authors, Fanny Burdino and Samuel sweet – “I wanted to take responsibility for what appeared on screen”- embedded in the image, a story about give the disgusting goal.

So much to sayArthur Rambo also progresses minefield, which Cantet was well aware of. “It is a film that addresses issues that sometimes lie a little under the rug, especially the status of these young people. It is no coincidence that most of these stories of people trapped in their old tweets involve young people with immigrant backgrounds because they are children who are scary because they are children who are happy to welcome. That’s the beginning of the film, because it’s a bit of proof that our society is less divided than people say we can cross lines. Except that to cross these lines, you need to make sure you have all the codes. And that from the moment we find out that he is not quite on the right track, Karim is sent back on the other side of the ring road …

Laurent Cantet
Laurent Cantet © DR

Fly forward

If history then adopts the structure of a test filmconfronts yesterday’s hero with various successive circles – his editor, his connected friends, his girlfriend, his friends from a suburban web TV and finally his mother and brother – who ask him essentially, “why did you write that?” , Laurent Cantet secures, however do not judge him: “I try to ask a series of questions, but the film does not condemn it. What interests me is also the work he does …“And to explain that one tends to believe it when Karim says during an interview:”I would push the plug as far as possible, provoking to see how far I would be allowed to go.“”There is a sincerity and also, I think, an unconsciousness. Mehdi Meklat wrote his tweets to friends. And then, often, it was an one-upmanship. He wrote a book, Autopsy , which we have also taken a few sentences from, where he shows the whole process: one must be the most provocative, the one who reacts the fastest, the one who has the most enthusiasm. There is a kind of head-length rush, and that means we end up saying things that are totally impermissible.

The excesses and thoughts of the Twitter sphere in 140 characters, which the film eloquently tells, Laurent Cantet struggles with verb strength. “When we express ourselves, whether it is verbally or by writing a tweet or a book, we must always keep in mind that words carry weight. What we say has a meaning, and this meaning may differ from some. I think you have to be aware of that, to at least try to be able to accept everything you have said and written. I do not know if it is necessary to channel, and I am not for censorship, for example. It is true that unacceptable things have been written that we would like them not to appear in, but I have the impression that it is an almost personal approach that should be avoided. This is where education has an important role to play: questioning what we write seems to me to be the best way. Afterwards, there will always be trolls, people who will use the media to do propaganda, to advertise for themselves, to shine. The film also looks at this desire for popularity: you would sell your mother for a like. I have the impression that when I was younger, at the age of Karim in the movie, it was rewarding to stand out, to be in the margin. Today I have the feeling, and we feel very strongly through social networks, that there is a need for popularity, to be part of a group and also of the general movement. Fear of loneliness can force some to do anything to belong.“With sometimes devastating effectslaws for the greatest number and immediacy that compose a potentially explosive cocktail, where social networks act as the sounding board for unbridled hate speech, a shift thatArthur Rambo auscultates everything in dryness: “It seemed very quick to me that the film should find a rhythm that was a little comparable to what it is trying to describe, this gloss of social networks, the speed at which an idea, a tweet circulates. This shape seemed obvious to me from the start, I wanted it to be a straight line. Besides, it’s the shortest of my movies.But not the least bit sharp.

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