France Against the Robots (2020, 10 min.)


(1) La France contre les robots (Jean-Marie Straub, 2020)

January 5, 1945. In Brazil, Georges Bernanos, a fighter of words against the Vichy regime, wrote La France contre les robots, published in 1946 by “Edition France Libre” with this copyright: “by Comité Central de la France Libre au Brésil.” France: a country that owes the world a Revolution in line with that of 1789 and the Paris Commune; robots: industrial machines whose reign is at work in all political-economic regimes (Nazi, Fascist, capitalist, democratic, Communist). What was Bernanos’ accusation against robots? The destruction of the relationship between human beings and nature; the replacement of a civilisation of the Word by a civilisation of the Number; Technology’s confiscation of the term “Progress” at the expense of the ancient principle of moral progress.

2020. Jean-Marie Straub, a fighter of images and sounds, chose a paragraph corresponding to the beginning of Bernanos’ pamphlet. He did not change a word. He used two versions of the same shot, each with full credits. At the start of the first version, twilight, a swan accompanies actor Christophe Clavert as he walks along the lake reciting Bernanos’ text, and then it disappears. At the end of the second version, brighter, a swan appears, passes the motionless actor, and drifts off to the left. The swans are among us, Nature will prevail, and the film offers this final gesture of unprecedented optimism – perhaps so that we can carry on, that is to say, fight, just a little longer. Straub dedicated the film to Jean-Luc Godard, who had recommended reading a treatise against the technologisation of the living, Le Manifeste des chimpanzés du futur contre le transhumanisme (2017). Bernanos, Straub, Huillet, Godard, the chimpanzees: those who used to be called “strong spirits,” the defiant ones.

Image from La France contre les robots (Jean-Marie Straub, 2020)


With thanks to Oscar Pedersen, Viktor Retoft and Balthazar.

This article was originally published in Balthazar no. 9, 2023, dedicated to the work of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub.

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.