Prendre Le Large: Un Récit Initiatique

Prendre Le Large (2017) un film français réalisé par Gaël Morel sur un thème inhabituel.

A Still from the Film
Photo: Bonnaire et Fettu. Credit:

Prendre Le Large (2017) est un film français réalisé par Gaël Morel et incarné par la formidable Sandrine Bonnaire, Mouna Fettu et un aimable Kamal El Amri. C’est un film qui c’agit d’un sujet plutôt non-conventionnel. Il nous raconte le parcours d’une femme d’âge moyen, Edith Clerval, ouvrière textile, qui laisse sa vie confortable dans un pays développé pour travailler dans des conditions atroces à Tanger, Maroc.

Tandis que certains ouvriers decident de partir en grève pour protester la délocalisation de l’usine à Maroc (où la main d’œuvre est moins onéreuse), d’autres préfèrent le chômage et acceptent les indemnités. Seule Clerval, refuse le licenciement proposé par son entreprise textile et à la surprise générale, décide d’être reclassée au Maroc comme couturière.

La seule justification qu’offre Morel pour cette énorme invraisemblance est la profonde solitude de la cinquantenaire, veuve, rejetée par son fils gay et qui veut ‘prendre le large,’ une expression qui se traduit en Anglais comme ‘Catch the Wind.’ Elle est tellement affamée de connexion humaine qu’elle voyage au bout du monde à une ville sulfureuse et inondée de mer où, comme nous le dit le Musulman au volant, ‘il y en a autant de fous que des chats.’

Il y en a déjà dizaines de films à propos des voyages des immigrants aux pays développés dans l’espoir d’une vie meilleure. Mais ce film prend comme prémisse le voyage à l’envers. Enfin, il devient un récit initiatique d’une femme qui va se confronter à une autre culture et d’autres mœurs que les siennes et dans un pays où la religion a un poids très fort sur la vie des femmes. Le film se fait l’écho aussi du fossé entre deux manières de travailler dans des usines qui sont bien différentes. En effet, il réfléchit sérieusement sur la notion du ‘travail’ elle-même, qui chez Edith est une question d’éthique et de principe, mais chez Mina, la logeuse Marocaine, c’est une réalité incontournable.

On apprécie aussi comment le film met en relief le privilège que jouit Edith à cause du couleur de sa peau et aussi la vulnérabilité simultanée qu’elle expérience comme femme et ouvrière dispensable. En effet, ce qui avait commencé comme une simple balade finit par des expériences d’être agressée, malmenée, accusée à tort et renvoyée de son travail et finalement d’être ramenée à un hôpital en raison de l’épuisement.

S’il y a quelques baisses de rythme dans le dernier tiers et un passage un peu exagéré, ce film aborde des sujets épineux d’actualité avec subtilité et cette balance et son dénouement heureux charment durablement.

Haikus for the Pandemic

The simple elegance of the Haiku as a poetic form is intended to slow us down and live a more contemplative life. An important lesson for our times.

Haikus are well-known poetic forms from Japan renowned for their striking visual suggestiveness and their brevity of expression. They explore themes of life, nature and the impermanence of the world. Called haikai until the 20th century, haikus are usually defined as three-line poems of 5-7-5 syllables with references to the seasons. But with the experimental free-verse Haiku, this definition is fairly variable. Also, the freedom from syllabic restriction is useful for haikus composed or translated in languages other than Japanese. English for example has a different rhythm from Japanese. Where the former emphasizes stress, the latter marks its syllables.

The true power of a haiku as a form comes from its economy and the simplicity of the image that it evokes. This open-ended image made visible as a glimpse of a scene or into a landscape, taps into larger philosophical and often existential questions of the human experience. The haiku is also indicative of a more contemplative way of life and thought that emphasizes looking at the world, seeing process of transformations in their depths and slowness. In a world reeling under a pandemic and forced into isolation and introspection, the haiku is a reminder that a slower way of life is never irrelevant. It is centered on those experiences, explorations and sensations that essentially make us human. Here are a few haikus describing beautiful scenes of seasonal change and with them kernels of universal truth. The haikus have been taken from Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems, by Stephen Addiss and Fumiko and Akira Yamamoto, published by Shambhala Publications in 2011.

   The spring sun
shows its power
    between snowfalls

   Not in a hurry
to blossom-
   plum tree at my gate

   The warbler
wipes its muddy feet
    on plum blossoms

   Is the dawn, too,
still embraced by
   hazy moon?

   Over the violets
a small breeze
    passes by

   Each time the wind blows
the butterfly sits anew
   on the willow

   Spring chill-
above the rice paddies
    rootless clouds

   Crazed by flowers
surprised by the moon—
    a butterfly

    Misty day-
they might be gossiping
    horses in the field

    Out from the darkness
back into the darkness
     affairs of the cat

     On the temple bell
perching and sleeping
      a butterfly

     Flower petals
set the mountains in motion—
     cherry blossoms

     Summer rains—
leaves of the plum
     the colour of cold wind

     Alone, silently-
the bamboo shoot
     becomes a bamboo

      At the sound of the sea
the sunflowers open
      their black eyes

     Dragonfly on a rock
absorbed in
     a daydream

     On a withered branch
linger the evanescent memory
     of a cicada’s voice

     A rinse of vermilion poured
from the setting sun, and then
     autumn dusk

falls on snow-
     and remains silent.

     In the abandoned boat
dashing sliding-

     Sharing one umbrella-
the person more in love
     gets wet

     Having given my opinion
I return home to
     my wife’s opinion.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Revisiting Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hugo-award winning science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) that is breathtaking in terms of its world-building and deceptively simple given its slimness. Le Guin is a well-known name in the world of fantasy writing and children’s literature. Writing primarily in the 60s and 70s, she was one of the few women who wrote in a field largely dominated by mostly white men. Le Guin’s writings, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, which came out in the year of the Stonewall Riots, added a different perspective to existing literature. Most of all, it tackled larger human, social and philosophical questions through science, calling attention to an ideal of humanism, understood in its best sense, and of the need to rally beyond barriers of race, ethnicity and culture.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, an Envoy named Genly Ai from an advanced humanoid race is sent to the land of Karhide on a planet called Gethen to propose an intergalactic alliance with the Ekumen, a coalition that seeks to forge unity between the far flung planets of the universe and to unite them. In a land of political intrigue and vendetta, the astute and exiled Prime Minister of Karhide, Estraven is the only one who believes in Genly Ai’s cause and eventually dies for it after saving him and making an incredible journey across snow, mountain, forest and ice.

Each state in Gethen has evolved into its own society, politics, language and custom which the Envoy observes and analyses in an anthropological manner typical of Le Guin’s writing. Among these, one of the most striking aspects of Gethenian society, is the notion of gender understood by the term ‘kemmer.’

Gethenians are androgynous and ambisexual and become female across a cycle of 28 days at the end of which they go into ‘kemmer’, a few days in which they are sexually active while any partner in kemmer can conceive. This idea about cyclic gender was incredible for its time and had important implications. It envisaged a society in which continuous sexuality was no longer a norm which meant that a person could be on any point of a gender spectrum at any time. It also put forth the idea of ‘men’ sharing the reproductive labour of child-bearing and rearing so that gender was no longer one of the most prominent organising principles of a society. This reproductive serendipity is novel even for today’s times.

The study of the polis between Karhide and its rival state of Orgeryn run by a Commensal instead of a king, is another scintillating piece of writing. It traverses the gulf between a monarchy and communal governance touching upon notions such as Shifgrethor or personal prestige in Karhide to Orgeryn’s group conditioning and the boundaries between love for one’s motherland and nationalism as a political tool for power.

Amidst all this, Le Guin throws in mystical narratives about spiritual cults (inspired by her interest in Taoism), stories of origins about places, people and names from the points of views of different characters. There is also a breathless nightmarish account of the Envoy himself, describing his experiences to the Farm which eerily echo the treatment of Jews in concentration camps.

What is especially stunning is the journey that Estraven and Genly Ai take together, a journey that is both metaphorical and spiritual in order to meet halfway across their cultural differences and to forge a friendship and loyalty for a greater cause. The ecological descriptions of snow, forest, mountain and the terrain they traverse are vivid and detailed as is the empathy with which societies and polities are described.

While the novel is majestic in its sweep, it does have a few setbacks. The most striking of which is the representations of gender itself. Although we are reminded that Estraven is both a man and a woman, even in his/her mysterious elusiveness s/he appears largely ‘male’ both because of the travesty of language and of a template of femininity that has itself come into question in recent years. But The Left Hand of Darkness is a world by itself like most of Le Guin’s novels and seen in the context of its own time, it certainly spoke to a different age.