Gaul-based helmer Tony Gatlif pays earnest but problematic homage to the Outrage/Occupy movement with “Indignados,” a semi-fictional fable in which a femme immigrant from Africa travels around Europe witnessing poverty and protests. Designed to spur auds into action through inspiring images, slogans and quotations from French provocateur Stephane Hessel’s influential pamphlet “Time for Outrage,” pic features some stirring docu sequences but is troubled by the same political vagueness that bedevils the movement itself, while the fictional frame is almost insultingly facile. “Indignados” won’t do outrageously good biz theatrically but could find followers in ancillary.
After washing up on a Greek shore, Betty (Senegalese social worker Mamebetty Honore Diallo, called only “Betty” in the end credits) makes her way to Athens. In voiceover, she reads a letter to her family back home, phrases from which are flashed onscreen in a stencil-style font, a recurring device that gives the film a scrawled-on-the-wall feel. In Athens, Betty lives on the streets and is arrested at one point. Later, she sees protestors furiously express their dissatisfaction with Greece’s current economic crisis and the plight of illegal immigrants like herself.
Although it’s never precisely explained how, Betty manages to make her way to Paris, where she continues to sleep rough and observes more protesters at the Bastille, but from a distance. People passing in the street watch footage of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tunisia with tears of joy as Betty looks on, touched. Betty gets arrested and sent back to Athens but eventually makes her way to Madrid, where she sees a huge Indignados (“Outrage”) protest sweeping through the streets. Passing protester Isabel (Isabel Vendrell Cortes) invites Betty to join, and she does with abandon. But later finds herself alone, and while squatting in an abandoned housing complex, Betty meets an uncertain fate.
Demonstrating once more his immense flair for music, Gatlif collaborates here again with Delphine Mantoulet (“Exiles”) and Valentin Dahmani to craft an eclectic score that melds seamlessly with source sounds from the action, such as a can rolling downhill or protesters’ drums. In one striking sequence, a singer and a violinist in an abandoned Parisian apartment block, every inch of concrete covered by graffiti, perform on a balcony while a flamenco dancer stomps out a rhythm below, as leaflets rain down over everyone. It’s a snazzy bit of cinema, albeit one that smacks of the phony streetwise aesthetics of musicvideos or fash-mag photography. Also troublingly trite is a sequence in which oranges roll down cobbled streets to the sea to rep the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruitseller and the rising tide of resistance.
As his body of work evinces, Gatlif has never met a florid gesture he didn’t like, but “Indignados” is in fact much more compelling when it just plays it straight and offers up docu footage of the various protests it records. The fictional framing device is not merely extraneous but borderline patronizing. Betty is not a person or even a character, but a symbol; she’s just there to be another victim of capitalism, like the homeless people repped just by shots of their shoes or the tents and makeshift shelters where they sleep. Likewise, the protesters are largely a parade of nearly indistinguishable fervent young people who are never interviewed. Only Hessel, quoted extensively by those stenciled subtitles, has any kind of voice here.
Digital lensing by Colin Houben and Sebastien Saadoun is proficient, and editor Stephanie Pedelacq does her best to create some sense of narrative out of clearly thin material.