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FIFDH 2021

Review: Red Soil


- A pacey, socially engaged, family-focused thriller which follows in the wake of a whistleblower to examine the conflict between the fight against pollution and the defence of economic interests

Review: Red Soil
Zita Hanrot and Sami Bouajila in Red Soil

"Why are you getting involved in something that doesn’t concern you?", "Do you really think eco-warriors are going to protect our jobs?" At the very same time that the "Climate and Resilience" bill is under discussion at the French National Assembly, Farid Bentoumi’s second feature Red Soil [+see also:
film profile
- awarded Cannes’ 2020 Official Selection - is continuing its festival career in the Fiction competition of Geneva’s 19th International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), pending its cinema release in France, which Ad Vitam has found itself repeatedly postponing, on account of the pandemic, since the autumn.

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This state of limbo, however, in no way detracts from the urgency and pertinence of the environmental theme which is tackled so effectively and empathically in this film. The latter positions itself at the heart of conflicting interests: on one side, we have public health jeopardised by industrial pollution, and on the other, protection of the economy and of jobs. But there’s also loyalty towards one’s own family in respect of their place of work versus the need to expose the truth and play the uncomfortable part of whistleblower.

This informer, who never imagined herself as such, is a nurse called Nour (rising star Zita Hanrot) who has returned to her small hometown after being found guilty of professional misconduct by her hospital. Her family pressure her into taking a job in the factory where her father Slimane (Sami Bouajila, impeccable as ever) has worked for 29 years, and where he also acts as a union rep. But between the breathing problems experienced by one particular worker who hasn’t been examined by occupational health for 15 years, and an incident involving a temporary worker who is burned and then "consoled" by way of a compensation package (with no formal declaration of the accident), the young woman begins to wonder if something is amiss.

Her questions place her in an awkward position vis-a-vis her father ("the factory puts food on our table. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you", "labour law? Do you want me to lose my job? You don’t care about the fact that I found you a job?") and the rest of her family, who all insist that the company, which is also currently undergoing re-evaluation by the public authorities to assess the factory’s chemical discharge levels, is well run (by Olivier Gourmet). Nour’s path crosses that of independent journalist Emma (Céline Sallette) who is conducting an investigation stemming back decades earlier and concerning the protected (and gated) lake area of a neighbouring nature reserve…

With the character’s growing awareness of wrongdoing, her crossing of the boundary between simple journalistic source and activism, and the moral dilemma which finds her torn between loyalty to her family and the need for transparency, Red Soil (whose story was written by the director and Samuel Doux) intelligently opts for an Erin Brockovich-style plot and advisedly steers clear of a black and white approach to offer up a fair portrayal of a working-class environment whose workers are held over a barrel amidst the threat of unemployment. Painting a similarly credible portrait of investigative journalism, the film uncovers the many complex issues at stake in the ecological struggle, whilst opting for a pace and visual style which are highly accessible to wider audiences, who can easily identify with the concerns of the protagonist and those of her father; because, ultimately, the fight against pollution must be rooted within the microcosm of the family and within the overcoming of differences born out of external sources of pressure.

Red Soil is produced by Les Films Velvet in co-production with Belgian group Films du Fleuve and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, and is sold worldwide by WTFilms.

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(Translated from French)

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