the Phocaean city in length, width and light


Almost two hours dedicated to the thousand-year-old history of Marseille are not too long to try to capture a bit of the complexity, the energy, the areas of shadow and light of this immense and very special city.

Marseille is told in this documentary by Hugues Nancy.

To embody the city, the experienced documentary filmmaker has chosen the self-portrait. Marsella thus tells her story in the first person singular through the enveloping voice of the singer Clara Luciani. This narrative mode, sometimes clumsy in certain documentaries, is successful in this particular case.

Beyond the clichés, Marseille is delivered through quality animations to explain what the city was like in Antiquity, then under the reign of Louis XIV or Napoleon III who wanted to profoundly transform the city of Marseille, and that, with gigantic support projects, will succeed.

Pagnol movies

Marseille can also be discovered from the sky, which allows a better understanding of urban convulsions, the extension of its territory and underlines the impressive beauty of certain places. Also through photographic archives that testify to often tragic episodes such as the raids of January 1943 and the destruction of an entire neighborhood around the town hall in February of that same year.

And then there are the mostly colorized movie files. An assistant to the Lumière brothers filmed the Old Port as early as 1896. Brief excerpts from Pagnolesque films (Marioin 1931, Conein 1932) alternate with excerpts from television reports that, from the end of the 1930s until today, film the sometimes dark realities of Marseille: gang warfare, wild urbanism, nothing is hidden.

But the general public cannot understand Marseille without well-chosen testimonials. Mission accomplished with the judicious choice of twenty Marseillais of all generations, from all neighbourhoods, famous (Ariane Ascaride and Robert Guédiguian, Macha Makeïeff, Philippe Fragione alias Akhenaton) or not.

host land

In front of the camera they tell their childhood, their life, their ancestors, their city in constant movement. “This landscape hurts the eyes it is so beautiful. But there is so much misery that it also hurts the eyes.”sums up Mélanie Egger’s music very well.

Since the 1950s, the world-city, once a welcoming land for Italians, Armenians, Jews from Turkey, White Russians, North Africans, before experiencing the influx of pieds-noirs from Algeria in 1962, has continued living deeply urban, economical. , demographic and cultural changes.

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Local industries have disappeared, large clusters of apartment buildings have sprung up to the north, where, ironically, decades before, the bourgeoisie had come to cool off in their beautiful bastides.

Today ? Marseille continues to move, as if caught in a vice between fatal shootings, endemic poverty, cultural dynamism and the gentrification of certain neighborhoods where real estate prices are almost “Parisians” (with the accent). Marseille in the coming years? The story is about to be written.

Once upon a time in Marseilled’Hugues Nancy (Fri., 2022, 110 min.).

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