Returning to Reims (Fragments)

Jean-Gabriel Périot, 83 min, France.

Moving up the social ladder is all but impossible in the rigid class system that still defines life in France. But despite being working class himself, the narrator in Returning to Reims (Fragments) has managed to escape the fate of working in a factory from the age of 13, living in a drab housing development, and being burdened by illiteracy, alcoholism, and premature death. He runs away from the place where he grew up and only returns following the death of his father, whom he hated. It’s not until his mother starts talking to him about her life that he realizes the extent to which his father was shaped by his surroundings and conditions.

Returning to Reims (Fragments) is based on the eponymous memoir by Didier Eribon, published in 2009, but this is much more than the life story of one individual. The succession of film fragments, news footage, and scenes from documentaries illustrates and explains the development of the working class as a whole. Inveterate Communists may now form an important base for the extreme right-wing party Front National, but that’s due more to loss of identity than xenophobia.