Closing out the second-last day of the 17th Annual Cinéfranco Film Festival was the touching drama entitled La Marche (The Marchers) by director Nabil Ben Yadir. Chronicling the inspirational true story of a group of young adults who chose to march across France for equality and against racism in 1983, La Marche succeeds primarily thanks to its talented cast as well as the heartfelt message at its core. It is a film about pain, endurance and forgiveness, as well as the strength to not only stand up but to walk forward against those who perpetuate acts of cruelty and indecency in this world. As the characters embark on their long journey from Lyon to Paris, bonds of friendship and love are formed, and each of the nine original marchers find their own personal inner-strength in the face of an increasingly hostile and violent backlash from those resistant to change.
The film opens as teenaged Mohamed (Tewfik Jallab) and his close friends have a run-in with the local police, ending with Mohamed being shot in what appears quite clearly to be a racially-motivated shooting. After surviving and recuperating, Mohamed returns home to his family where he declares his desire to stand up against the racism and inequality that plagues the lives of so many in France, including second-generation immigrants like himself who truly consider it their home. Rejecting his friend’s proposal for violent retribution, Mo instead announces a desire to pursue non-violent political action on a much larger scale. With the support of his closest friends, as well as the dedicated help of a priest named Christophe Dubois (Olivier Gourmet), Mohamed leads his fellowship for equality on a walk across the entire face of the country. Along the way, they encounter hatred in many forms – including a couple violent physical attacks – which continually force them to call into question their will to continue while at the same time reaffirming the utmost importance of their cause.
The entire ensemble does an excellent job working together and growing as characters, and this above all else remains the main reason for La Marche‘s success in telling its story. My personal favourite of the bunch is probably the priest Dubois, thanks to Olivier Gourmet’s magnetic performance which asserts itself in a powerful early scene where he speaks passionately about his feelings towards their cause. Jallab was also quite good in the lead role as Mohamed, despite the fact that his character is given the least to do out of the bunch after the initial setup. In fact, the supporting cast quickly emerges as the backbone that drives much of the film as the narrative progresses, with the characters of Sylvain (Vincent Rottiers), Monia (Hafsia Herzi), Kheira (Lubna Azabal) and Hassan (Jamel Debbouze) proving exceptional alongside the aforementioned Dubois.
Yadir has assembled a moving film that reminds us, above all else, of the resilience and power of the human spirit. Despite the bleak situation that the group faces on the road, and the permanent scars that would result from their collective action, La Marche is a surprisingly upbeat film depicting a set of characters who are all searching for the strength within themselves to overcome adversity on more than just a personal scale. The way in which each character emerges from their respective shell in order to find a voice that speaks to the entire population of France is extremely inspiring; and yet there is enough humour, sincerity and natural chemistry between everybody to keep the film from falling flat or coming across as a heavy-handed exercise. Instead, there is a genuine sense of growth and passion that emerges in La Marche, allowing the film’s message to take on much greater resonance and reminding us of the impact that the few can have on the many.
4 / 5 S T A R S