"Each time has its own fascism", say found-footage experts Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi in their latest, challenging essay-film - a brutally demanding assemblage of private archival footage, mainly home movies from Italy's fascist colonial past. If you have never been exposed to the duo's extensive work with the manipulation of pre-existing, often anonymous or newsreel film archives and their experimental, pointedly political approach, Pays barbare may come as quite a shock - Ms. Ricci Lucchi and Mr. Gianikian, whose background is in fine arts and have been toiling quietly in their rarefied niche for nearly 40 years now, certainly do not make it easy for the casual viewer to join in. Tough luck, though: Pays barbare is an acid, chilling comment on today's world as seen across the distant chasms of time and memory, and the "barbaric country" that gives it its title are in fact the African countries that 1930s Italy "conquered".

     The main focus of Mussolini's African adventures seen here are Libya and Ethiopia, with Ms. Ricci Lucchi and Mr. Gianikian picking up on the naïve yet scarily condescending representation of the natives as "savage aliens" to create a mesmeric, singularly disturbing portrait of imperialist mores and thoughts: the racism, either casual or deliberate, is far-ranging enough to be shocking and bewildering at the same time, and Pays barbare dissects it as much as it pokes gleeful satire at it. That the period images and camera settings too often remind us of European and American film exotica of the time, whether silent or sound, merely underline the point: these wholly unrealistic images end up serving the political purpose of subjugation better than any truly realistic ethnography could have done.

     The film's initial ten minutes are silent, giving afterward way to the director's highly stylized commentary voiceover and to the atmospheric soundscapes of Keith Ullrich and dissonant piano pieces of Giovanna Marini (her singing in particular can be utterly grating and take away from the film's demanding, absorbing universe). Throughout its short but intense length, Pays barbare slowly becomes a haunting meditation on the exact meaning of "barbarism" - and, as pop singer Morrissey once pithily put it, "barbarism begins at home".

Directors, screenwriters and editors: Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi
Music: Giovanna Marini, Keith Ullrich
Producers: Sylvie Brenet, Serge Lalou (Les Films d'Ici in co-production with ARTE France La Lucarne)
France, 2013, 63 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2013 advance screener, Lisbon, October 12th 2013


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