in Allonnes in Sarthe, the town of the children of exile

For many months, Director Ānanda Safo rubbed shoulders with children expelled from their country, accommodated with their families seeking asylum in a town Allonnes near Le Mans. His documentary “Our Uprooted Souls” questions the future reserved for them and testifies to their formidable ability for resilience.

It is a street like many in France, with trees lined with tall buildings. Dozens of kids play ball and bike there. We are in Allonnes, a town on the outskirts of Le Mans, almost in the countryside.

The town is surrounded by a forest, the Bois du Marin, which you cross to reach the banks of the Sarthes. The families, they come from all over the world, and for many of them, life is not a long calm river. Allonnes has about thirty different nationalities among its 11,000 inhabitants. Rue Louis-Rosier, the Sarthoise Association Tarmac and the Center for Asylum Seekers (CADA) manage 8 accommodations to respond to emergencies.

Laval director Ānanda Safo has set up her longtime camera there. From the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020, she set up documentary workshops here for children in exile. That’s how she met Sayaf, Jacira and Anahit, the three main characters in “Our Uprooted Souls”. Jacira is Angolan, Anahit-Armenian. Mutually and at school, the two teenagers speak French. Next to their mothers who speak the language a little or badly, they are also translators. In Jacira’s room, they confide. “We moved because of the war, I was 7 years old and I did not understand anything “. Anahit remembers hotels, insecure rooms, without heating or kitchen. “We went to southern Russia for two months, we moved three times, then we spent two years in Germany, and in 2017 we came here. I started school in CE2 “.

Anahit goes to college in Allonnes, as does Jacira, who left Angola soon after the release of her mother, a nurse who was arbitrarily imprisoned and threatened. “My mother did not tell me where we were going, she asked me to get me in the car in the middle of the night. We arrived in Congo, then we went to Portugal and then to France”. After two months spent on the streets of Paris, Jacira, her mother and her little brother arrived at Allonnes.

The family, like Anahits, occupy one of the emergency residences on rue Louis-Rosier.

Another promotion, another exile, Sayafs. He was born in Mayotte and lives in Allonnes with his grandmother and aunt. If he took that far from home, it’s for his schooling: Sayaf never really liked school, he prefers the streets, football and friends. However, he is gifted; after a difficult first year on the French mainland, he has just entered college and is receiving congratulations from his teachers.

But Sayaf, bursting with energy, continues to come home late at night. The prospect of returning to his mother in Mayotte becomes clearer to him if he does not change …

From the stairs of the buildings to the basketball court, from the swimming pool to the rooms for teenagers, where we dress up, the documentary rolls out the chronicle with almost no stories about these teenagers and pre-teenagers. For behind the apparent normality of their daily lives hovers relentlessly the threat of deportation, of a new jerk.

Like Jacira and Anahit, little Sayaf crossed paths with Marc-Alexandre Oho Bambe, alias Captain Alexandre, in Allonnes. The poet, winner of the Verlaine Prize from the French Academy in 2015, leads slam workshops for children in exile from Allonnes. When he left his native Cameroon to continue his studies in France, he was a scout for them. Along with him, we hear in the mouths of these children hatch the words from a language that was not theirs in early childhood. French, which they had adopted out of necessity as a common language in order to overcome the obstacle of their different origins, now they discover its poetic power, and it is very beautiful.

Captain Alexandre also appears to be watching the documentary as he signs the story, his soft voice intervening at regular intervals and defending the cause of children, those of Allonnes and all the children of the world thrown on the roads or at sea by oppression, hunger and wars, unwelcome if they were not rejected, where they could finally regain their foothold and hope.

So it is with our country, a reality that “Our Displaced Souls” honestly testify to. Ānanda Safo’s camera is there as Anahit’s family has to leave the premises and leave the apartment to others. Terrible pictures of hastily filled bags and a few boxes loaded into the association’s van to take the teenager, his little sister and his mother to an unknown hotel, with perhaps the street as the final prospect of non-acceptance of the asylum application.

The documentary narrows in its last part on Jacira. The naughty and determined teenager shares a passion for dance with Anahit: At the foot of their building, the director has filmed them many times while rehearsing the choreographies they see on TikTok. This taste for the show will get Jacira to sign up for a dance course led by choreographer Mounir El Mrini.

Magnificent last part, who wants to see the young Angolan learn to dance while looking in front of her, leaves the screen of her phone with her eyes planted in the teacher’s gaze. The first step on a long road to self-affirmation, where we discover the shyness and lack of self-confidence of a young girl who until then made an impression. However, administrative troubles are never far away, and the uncertainty about Jacira’s and her family’s future will remain until the end of the film, as a heavy threat.

After almost two years of filming, which will have seen the children grow up, we arranged a screening of “Our Displaced Souls” on May 13 in the cinema “Les Cinéastes” in Le Mans in the presence of families and associations. . An exchange of rare emotions, consisting of children’s laughter and barely contained tears from adults admiring their courage. Jacira and Anahit were there, a little embarrassed to have seen each other on screen, but full of humor: two schoolgirls of today, quite simply.

When I left the room, I had in mind the words from Jacques Brel’s song “fils de”:

But son of bourgeois or son of apostles

All children are like yours

Son of Caesar or son of nothing

All children are like yours

The same smile

The same tears

The same alarms

The same sigh

Our Uprooted Souls, a documentary by Ānanda Safo

A France 3 Pays de la Loire co-production – 24 images

Sent on Thursday 19 May at 22.45.

Rebroadcast at 9:50 a.m. Wednesdays May 26 and June 15

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