Petit à petit

Jean Rouch, France, 1971


Reporters often take opinion polls and soundbites in the street. Jean Rouch uses this devise and subverts it: the interviewer is Damouré, the film’s main character, encountering passers-by who don’t know that a fictional film and not a TV report is being filmed. The actor carries out a fake wild anthropology survey, using incongruous methods (measuring Parisians in the street). Reverting the relation between the whites, “inventors” of anthropology and the “indigenous” (Rouch’s favoured topic of study), he aims, as he unsettles his interviewees, highlighting the persistence of the subconscious colonialist impulse, or even latent racism. The sequence is in fact filmed near the Trocadero esplanade, where the first museum of ethnography was, opened in the 19th century, at the peak of the colonial era. Such a setup requires great flexibility, catching in one shot what cannot be acted again: surprise, disbelief, or even misunderstanding or doubt on the interviewed passers-by’s faces: the cameraman, with a hand-held camera, must catch every single expression, whilst keeping Damouré in the frame; We also see here how the camera’s presence modifies behaviour: in the depth of field, bystanders, curious about this peculiar situation, stop to watch them at work. The film-maker, through this complex setup mixing real and fake, reality and fiction, questions the ability of capturing a completely objective reality; even provoking a worried reaction, nearly a massive doubt: “why are you doing this?” as asked by one of the interviewees. Retrospectively, these images also give to today’s spectator a view of Paris in the 1960s.