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Ferrua, Pietro

Sartre par lui-même ( Sartre by Himself)

Film by Alexandre ASTRUC and Michel CONTAT

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France, 1976

B&W. 98’







CAST: Jean-Paul SARTRE, Simone de BEAUVOIR, Jacques-Laurent BOST, André GORZ, Marie OLIVIER, François PERIER, Jean POULLON, Serge REGGIANI. VOICE OVER: Jacques FRANTZ, Serge REGGIANI, Françoise GIRET, Philippe ADRIEN.

No one was perhaps more philosophically influential for the post-World War II generation than Jean-Paul Sartre. With such diverse thinkers as Albert CAMUS and André BRETON, he formed a triad that was dominating the intellectual world. At that time, we did not consider it an anomaly that those three writers were all French, did not agree among themselves, and had some flaws in their thinking.

The fact that all three were somewhat connected to anarchism was just a coincidence which made some of us admire them even more despite their diversity.

At the University of Geneva, some of us were subscribing collectively to Les Temps Modernes, the journal directed by Sartre, which gave us so much food for thought. In those days, I considered Existentialism the logical philosophy for anarchists and I had written some papers on that topic. Notwithstanding Sarte’s dominating personality, we were not blindly agreeable to everything he wrote or did. On the contrary, we were even more upset when he tried to be politically correct in relation to the Soviet Union or adversaries.

Alexandre Astruc, one of the two directors of this film, is an unconditional supporter of Sartre as a political thinker for the French Left. Astruc, a neglected French filmmaker, is a great stylist and was always an honest, serious and committed intellectual. I had the opportunity to discuss this film with him during one of our rare encounters, at the hospital bed of a common friend. In Astruc’s opinion, Sartre was essentially an anarchist. Sartre admits (and says in the film), "We were, if you like anarchists, but it was a special kind of anarchy".

What kind of anarchy it was, he did not say, at least not in this documentary. So I have to trust Astruc’s explanations beyond the film, since he was a personal friend of both Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. A few anarchist characters appear in the short stories of Le Mur (and they inspired Serge Roullet a wonderful film) and many of his fictional or theatrical characters speak as anarchists even if they do not claim to be so.

Astruc and Contat’s film concludes on an anarchist note when the narrator says:

"Sartre, together with his comrades, pursued the search for a socialism without any previous model, without authority, without delegation of power: a libertarian socialism".

It was probably this very declaration that determined us (the organizing committee of the First International Symposium on Anarchism) to invite Sartre to speak at our 1980 event. What could have been the "great opportunity" to explore directly Sartre‚s anarchism never materialized: Sartre was already seriously ill. He died soon afterward.

While the anarchism of Sartre remains to be researched, cinematographically or otherwise, this film constitutes a milestone in the domain of "Sartrology". I am happy to underline that it was beautifully filmed by Renato Berta, a Swiss-Italian student at the University of Geneva in 1954, who knew, already then, that he wanted to become a cinematographer and who, indeed, became acclaimed for this in Switzerland, as well as in France, collaborating on the creation of numerous masterpieces in a career that spans half a century.

Pietro Ferrua

Contributor : CREAGH Ronald

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Sartre par lui-même ( Sartre by Himself),
What's new: 26 April 2015. [Online].
[Accessed on 25 May 2016]

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