The best film I saw at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York was “The Marchers”, based on an amazing event in 1983 France in which a group of 9 diverse people began a 930 mile march against racism. Current news events show the continued relevance of “The Marchers”. Before the film, director Nabil Ben Yadir, who also co-wrote the screenplay, said that if the events of “The Marchers” were not true, “I don’t think anyone would believe” what happened. He added that if he had been shot, unlike the marchers, “I don’t think I’d have been inspired by Gandhi.”
Mohamed (Tewfik Jallab), the son of Arab immigrants, lives in a housing project in Lyon. When coming to the aid of his friend Hassan (Jamel Debbouze, “Days of Glory”), Mohamed is shot by the police. After recovering, Mohamed is inspired by the film “Gandhi” (directed by the recently deceased Richard Attenborough), to make a non-violent response to the violence that is part of his life. Someone jokes that Mohamed had never even heard of Gandhi before the film.
Mohammad decides to march for equality and against racism by walking from Marseilles to Paris. He is joined initially by 8 others, a diverse group that includes his non-Arab friend Sylvain (Vincent Rottiers, “Renoir”), Hassan, a priest (Olivier Gourmet, “The Kid with a Bike”), an Arab activist (Lubna Azabal, ”Incendies”) her niece (Hasifa Herzi), and a journalist (Charlotte Le Bon, “The Hundred-Foot Journey”).
The screenplay skillfully individualizes the original 9 marchers, well portrayed by the ensemble. Originally their efforts attract little notice, like a lone sign in a town square. Gradually their long walk gets more attention and they are confronted by swastika, hostility, and threats. Dissention develops between the walkers as their differences become pronounced. The authorities monitor the progress of the event and debate whether it should be stopped. “The Marchers” becomes a fascinating and absorbing film that builds to a rousing conclusion on the streets of Paris.
Director/co-writer Nabil Ben Yadir added that he considered the main character of his film to be the march itself. He also commented on the growth of racism in France. He said that after a scene of a shooting in his film, members of the extreme right wing party get up and applaud, trying to incite violence.