Allons Enfants by Thierry Demaiziere and Alban Teurlai

Break the spiral of school failure by integrating working-class students into the hip-hop athletic department of a large Parisian institution. Far from the fairy tale of lulling young people to sleep, this is an exceptional challenge that the Lycée Turgot has been tackling since 2015. An educational experience, unique in France (and continuing to this day), accompanied by the immersive and benevolent camera of Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, documentary filmmakers driven by a communicative energy. Allons Enfants tells us about the human adventures of the various students and dancer apprentices admitted to this section during the 2018-2019 school year. Guided by the determination of their physical education and physical education teachers, supervised by professional dancers and choreographers, supported by the tireless commitment of their headmaster and the deep motivation of the educational team, girls and boys go through the ordeal of puberty and the challenge themselves in their education before our eyes and to excel in the pursuit of their passion. With the same claim to excellence in dealing with others that the social, cultural and cross-generational diversity claimed here allows. Shocking result: an uncompromising portrait of a militant French youth ready to sweep away the stereotypes and tear down the obstacles to their emancipation.

cauldron of creation, discipline of education, denial of ease

A prelude in the form of an energy vortex captured by an immersive camera. In front of us a group of young people in motion and the confident voice of an adult calling out, “Come closer. Close the circle!’. As the music and its muted pulsing seamlessly transport us into a collective hip-hop dance session. A few clues that pique our curiosity and take us to Allons Enfants with joy.

Even if the two directors localize in a few lines the location of the action, the Lycée Turgot and its different spaces (corridors, classrooms, gymnasium and other rehearsal places…), they also adopt the impressionistic way to emphasize the heart of their project (the functioning of the Department of Sporting Excellence in Hip-Hop) and the various protagonists of the company.

Close camera, impressionistic look

Thus, the alternating processing of sequences, combined with the music and dance chosen by the students concerned, composes an invigorating documentary, always in motion. With a tendency to switch back and forth between the singular (personal remarks in front of the camera) and the collective (exercises, rehearsals, sports training, excerpts from classes, from the French to study “Germinal” by Emile Zola, for example…). come and go.

A choice of filming in fragments, as if the two directors encouraged us to keep our sensibilities and our intelligence alert to grasp the human complexity and the pedagogical and artistic demands of the pedagogical challenge.

In this sensitive and unobtrusive way we gradually get to know the young heroes of the long-term adventure. Charlotte, Erwan, Michelle, Nathanaël, Ketsi, Maxime or Anissa are not all present on screen with the same intensity. When everyone, born with smartphones and used to filming and being filmed every moment, quickly forgets the camera and the small production team, some are led to confide their weaknesses, their doubts, their deep desires and their dream to the craziest, others not. With a greater propensity to express her feelings towards girls, who are also in the minority and more struggling in the “milieu” of historically male hip-hop dance. In front of the camera, Michelle recognizes an extreme shyness combined with the impression of being transparent, a lack of self-confidence that she overcomes through dance. Charlotte, on the other hand, an orphan abandoned in a home in Africa, troubled in her identity by an approximate date of birth, morphs to such an extent that she virtuosically accomplishes herself into figures of great hip-hop energy.

For his part, Erwan recognizes, with apparent detachment, the great pain of being raised by an alcoholic mother who takes him to bars from an early age. An affliction that does not prevent her from repelling this fate, from proudly proclaiming: “I dance for my mother”, from insisting on her relentless desire to succeed.

An exemplary suggestion

The documentary gives pride of place to the initiator of this unique section in France, David Bérillon. Young physical education teacher, originally from Clermont-Ferrand, curious about hip hop and then a fan who, after being transferred to Paris, favored the creation of a Hip Hop Battle event by the UNSS, which quickly attracted many followers. In 2014, fueled by the enthusiasm of some of these students and others from working-class neighborhoods, he met Mr Barraud, the new headmaster of the Lycée Turgot [à la retraite depuis 2020 mais l’expérience se poursuivit] with a view to creating a sports department for hip-hop excellence that integrates students from working-class neighborhoods. Contrary to custom and norms, the headmaster obtains a form of “désectorisation” from the ministry. And the project was first realized in September 2015.

The directors spontaneously and without complacency capture the extraordinary energy unleashed by this professor, convinced of the possibilities of expression and development that the expression of the body in dance allows. A passion reinforced by the commitment of the management and the caring and demanding teachers to oversee the ongoing teaching and the mistakes or failures of the most vulnerable.

Nathanaël, the absent-minded rascal, constantly reminded of compulsory school attendance and other time rules by mobile phone, counters every single interview with a train delay or a stubborn silence, disarmed by his broken promises or his approaches to clarity. which will make him admit his failure).

No judgment and no belief in miracles on the part of the educational team, driven by a shared project (far beyond the scope of the hip-hop section), a quest for academic success and access to knowledge for the 1,400 students (700 in secondary, 700 in of higher education) of this large public institution.

Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, connoisseurs and filmmakers of the expressive skills developed through dance (“Relève” 2017, “Move » 2020), direct our gaze exclusively to the extraordinary adventure of this sporting elite of hip-hop We live from within the struggle that the lead selected students with anger, determination and enthusiasm in this race that will range from the first breathing exercises on the ground to the final of the French championship.

A daily struggle with many ramifications to overcome their intimate wounds, their social or cultural disabilities, the prejudices linked to their skin color or their blunt openness, their specific expressions due to contractions (we are ‘put off’ for certain or far from strong Language spoken in a high-pitched voice by her “white” classmates, as confided by a smiling young black woman (who, at the beginning of the year, discovers with open astonishment that there are only four blacks in his class and all the others are white).

And gradually the semblance of obviousness appears before our eyes, reinforced by Avia’s original music: the grace and fluidity of hip-hop dancing bodies, the beauty of girls freed from the gaze of others in the flexible and lively performance of poetic choreographies, the proud affirmation of personalities in their creative distinctiveness within a collective eager to go to the end of the championship.

To see some members of the finalist team repeating the words of the national anthem for a win within reach to hear them sing in a hip-hop style arrangement: “No, but let’s go kids, let’s go kids, was de la patrie, these public school kids, fragile heroes of an exemplary documentary, make our hearts beat faster.

Samra Bonvoisin

“Allons Enfants” by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai – to be released on April 6th, 2022

Selection ‘Generations’, Berlinale 2021

Leave a Comment