The Last Working Class City in France: Gheerbrant’s La république Marseille and Post-Global Cinema


I will argue here that Denis Gheerbrant’s Marseille is the last working class city in France in the same way that Medvedkin was the last Bolshevik for Chris Marker. Denis Gheerbrant‘s seven-episode documentary film series, La république Marseille (The Marseille Republic [2009]), like Marker’s film, is the portrait of an era though the portrait of a city. Now, however, the era in question is the age of globalization, and its subject is not a person but Marseille, a city that is fighting to remain faithful to its proletarian past even as the realities of globalization are destroying its working class. At a time when the death of the working class is being endlessly foretold (Beaud and Pialoux; Castel), Marseille’s insistence on keeping “unspoiled the faith of its youth” and its self-understanding as a working-class city constitutes—as Medvedkin did for Marker—an enigma to be solved. Should Marseille’s enduring attachment to its proletarian character be seen as a nostalgic throwback to a bygone industrial era and a denial of the social transformations that globalization has wrought in the city? Or could it be, on the contrary, an active, forward-looking strategy of resistance? Such is the question that underlies La république Marseille, a film whose title could be rendered, with a nod toward the English translation of Marker’s film, as The Last Working Class City in France.

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