La Commune (Paris, 1871)

  • Peter Watkins, La Commune (Paris, 1871), 2000, digital video, 345 min., black and white, French w/English subtitles


  1. Feb 27, 2014, 6 – 7:30 pm
Level 0, Lecture Hall

The Carpenter Center presents a free screening of Peter Watkins’ La Commune (Paris, 1871), a 375-minute docudrama reconstructing the events of the Paris Commune in its 1871 struggle against the Versaillais French forces. The filming took place in an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Paris that was outfitted to resemble the 11th Arrondissement, one of the poorest working-class districts at the time of the Commune’s suppression and the scene of some of the conflict’s bloodiest fighting.

The cast included 220 people from Paris and the provinces, most of them lacking prior acting experience. People with conservative political views were deliberately recruited to act in roles opposed to the Commune. The cast members were encouraged to do their own research into the historical events, as well as to improvise and to discuss the events during the filming process. Even after the shooting was over, the cast’s involvement with its ideas continued in different ways; for example, a weekend of public talks organized by one of the actors, featuring presentations and debates on the Paris Commune.

The film challenges existing notions of documentary film, as well as the notions of “neutrality” and “objectivity” so beloved by the mass media today. The film is not intended as an apologia on behalf of the Paris Commune. But at the same time, it attempts to show that the Paris Commune, for all its human frailty, its internal conflicts and its blundering, was an event of major importance, not least because of the way in which its leading reformers tried to work with social process, by a direct involvement with the community and its needs. For Watkins, to make a film is to question his own work as a filmmaker. La Commune represents an uncompromising challenge to modern media and a penetrating critique.

The screening of La Commune (Paris, 1871) occurs in conjunction with the exhibition Living as Form (The Nomadic Version), on view in the Level 1 and Leve 3, Sert Gallery, from Feb7–April 6, 2014.