There is an heir to the Nouvelle Vague who is wandering around our cinemas these days. A sliver revived of that word cinema – ça va sans dire inspired by Éric Rohmer – which was also, eminently, social and political cinema.
It is the film “Alice and the Mayor” of director Nicolas Pariser, considered a champion of French political cinematography, in which an eccentric (and heretical) story is staged with respect to the usual customs of the political politique, but also in comparison to the more recent post-political practices.
There is a mayor in Lyon – played, as usual masterfully, by Fabrice Luchini, and who looks a bit like Gérard Collomb, the authentic first citizen of the French metropolis – in a black crisis. A political malaise that is also existential – and the coincidence between the two levels is quite significant. Paul Théraneau is a long-time socialist politician who has been on the field for over thirty years, an exemplary – albeit positive – figure of “elephant” (the equivalent of our “dinosaur” to indicate the gerontocrats-barons of the political world), and a notable, rooted locally and with a national weight, according to a long-lasting tradition that comes directly from the Third Republic. But, as he says in dismay and with a lost look, “I can't think at all anymore”. And to say that Théraneau was known, as well as for the sacred fire of politics that burned inside him, precisely for his long and creative thinking, thanks to which he made his way into the Socialist Party until he became one of the top representatives.
And suddenly he finds himself with this void that afflicts him just when he is meditating whether to run for presidential elections. Here, then, that to get out of the impasse, it occurs to him to summon a young philosopher, Alice Heimann (Anaïs Demoustier), who has returned from Oxford; in turn, an ideal type, the personification of a generation of young people with many studies and experiences abroad on their shoulders, perpetually on the border between working flexibility (and mobility) and existential precariousness.
And he asks her to “give him ideas”, a task that Alice takes very seriously, generating jealousies and conflicts in the mayor's routine and somewhat cynical staff, and ending up as the protagonist of a memorable clash with her communicative apparatus, whose only polar star is to stay in the “flow” of news and make headlines. That “communication” which, hypostatized and converted into a sort of abstract entity, must prevail over everything, starting from the political-programmatic contents, and the Italian examples are wasted, especially in the vast populsovranist field, somewhat innovative in terms of propaganda .
The film, extremely dialogued and spoken (as happens only in a certain French-speaking cinema), has some tone that could be traced back to the glorious vein of classic moralists like Montaigne (which, in fact, occurs here and there in the conversations of the protagonists). It also has a fairytale – and very Rohmerian – trend; one could say right from the request of the mayor, who today appears very “strange” (and unusual), but proposes the eternal “dangerous relationships” between the prince and the philosopher.
With the former, however, that in the postmodern age he also stopped fighting with the latter because, simply, he does not know what to do with it. And, in the daily newspaper of political and electoral politics, the quotations of the various Rousseau, Orwell and Illich (and others), which Alice inserts in the speeches and notes for Théraneau, represent only a useless (and, often, unsustainable because even incomprehensible burden by entire sectors of the ruling class of the parties).
It is located a lot in this film, a must see. Like the clear snapshot of the generational condition of thirty-year-olds deeply discouraged in current politics and its actors (and disappointed, first of all, by the official left present “on the market”), but somehow eager to find ways to participate in the collective dimension and give its own contribution. A situation that applies in France as in the rest of the West (including Italy, of course).
With the paradox for which it is the elephant of the old Ps who complains about the loss of that enthusiasm for politics that millennials facing public life have never been able to bear. A difference that goes perfectly on stage – yet another (apparent) postmodern paradox, labeled as the “Théraneau paradox” – in the discussion between the mayor who claims the gauche's “right” to embody and promote (social, economic and cultural) progress ) and Alice who opposes him, in the name of a “compulsory” mix of realism and disenchantment, the environmental constraints and the unavoidable economic compatibility that no longer give us the ability to change things.
A narrative fiction that returns one of the underlying nuclei of the debate going on for weeks on these pages about the reinvention of the left: the intertwining of the emergency (and the necessary) ecological transition and the need to reconfigure a reformism with the reforms. Because the “reformism without reforms”, instead – which in the Italian political landscape is now a long-standing question, not accidentally born in the eighties of craxism (as Edmondo Berselli had already pointed out) – ends up being the best ally (and motivator) of the various populisms rampant in this decade. If nothing changes, a public opinion frightened and overwhelmed with frustrations turns into public emotion, as is increasingly the case in today's emotional and audience democracies. And in nervous states (as the British sociologist William Davies defined them in his book of the same name, published by Einaudi) if there is a tightening between neoliberalism and populism there is no longer anyone. And, first and foremost, for progressives, who end up paying the hefty price of what Théraneau in this film – a true breviary of the politics of the age of the end of the illusions – calls “infinite impotence”.
Just right in politics, where storytelling or the absolute solitude of power, like that of Emmanuel Macron, who should have built a version of neoprogressism adequate to the populisovanist challenge and, instead, is encountering many difficulties after the insurrection of the yellow gilets. And that it is experiencing a heavy crisis of consensus, confirming how the paradigm of the Third way works in affluent societies that experience forms of growth of wealth – those, not surprisingly, in which at least one of the variants of progress (the economic one) remains .
But not where social suffering increases, to which it cannot give an adequate answer; especially if, as in the current dramatic phase, it is intertwined with a form of collective psychic distress (a disruptive and devastating mixture, which has found its emblem at the imaginary level in the Joker mask).
Eventually Alice and the mayor converge in an ideal battle against neoliberal financialisation and its inequalities, establishing a potential intergenerational alliance. But it is a very vast (and very difficult) program. The film, in the end, is a very suggestive and successful photograph of the expropriation of politics (and depoliticization), between populisms and technocracies. In other words, of the enormous effort of the search for another formula, which cannot coincide with some of those of the “lost time”, as – to remain in a cinema – he had already prophetically understood the François Mitterrand of The walks in the Field of Mars ( 2005) by Robert Guédiguian, when he announced the impossible resistance (and, in fact, the funeral) of the twentieth-century left in the face of the rise of globalization.
From the French laboratory – which invented and universalized the idea of progress – thoughts have long been coming that proclaim the end of the politician. It was summarized in the same dissolving parable of the Socialist Party which, after the season of social-liberalism (the Third Way à la française), ended up torn between macronism and the neo-populist ultragauche of La France Insoumise. A trajectory from which a lesson also comes for our country: we need the ideal and programmatic software of a renewed liberal-socialism, which must be able to live the postmodern condition without discomfort. And this can only happen by recovering and updating an Enlightenment project of authentic social reforms, and equipping itself with the indispensable environmental awareness.