The environment, socialism, humanism are just three of themes on the menu at Paris’s Cinéma La Clef (the key). The cinema, just over the road from Paris 3 University, has a new decor and a new management team which aims to raise social awareness through a sociable cinema experience.
Liberté (Freedom), a film released earlier this year in France, was among the offerings at a special screening to mark the cinema’s identity change.
It tells the real-life story of a family of gypsies or Tziganes, or Roma as we call them today, who are interned and deported from France in World War II.
Directed by Tony Gatlif, the film underscores the new cinema managers' bid to become a venue that showcases social causes.
Gatlif is well-known in France for his gypsy themes.
Liberté is a burning necessity today, Gatlif says.
“This story is part of French history and nobody knew about it. I started working on it three years ago and finished it a year ago, and so I felt there was a real urgency for people to see it.“
The Roma had been condemned to poverty when forced to become sedentary in communist eastern Europe, Gatlif explains. So they are economic refugees coming to a country where they also expect to find respect for human rights.
“I’m a film-maker, I’m not a politician or spokesperson,” he says. “Of course, I’m on the Roma’s side. France is my country. I’m not going to pull it down. On the contrary. I want the opposite. I want to lift the image and the idea of France higher. I was brought up with French democracy, human rights. That’s what I want to hold up. However, when something like this [deportation of Roma from France] happens, I have to talk about it, because I work with the Rom. I know them very well.”
In a debate with the audience, Gatlif was asked about the music, which contributes noticeably to the film's identity. He works with classical pianist Delphine Mantoulet, who derives her inspiration from the gypsy musicians who form part of their orchestra.
”We work with fabulous Gitan [Roma] musicians, they are so free in their music. They hear something, then they reinterpret it, they create […] You feel their will to live.”
In a multiplex cinema world, La Clef must fight to survive.
It was previously called Images d'Ailleurs and it specialised in films about or from Africa.
After more than a year of lying empty, this 100-seat capacity hall owned by the work council of one of the French banks, has risen from the ashes and it's wearing new clothes.
About half of the audience stayed on to chat informally, meet the director and drink a glass of wine in a room by the entrance where a series of photos of uncarefully-disposed-of waste was on exhibition.
Nicolas Tachiani, one of the programmers at La Clef is keen to forge a tie with younger cinema-goers.
“Children are our hope for the future, they are really going to save the planet!” he says. “Adults have their problems, egos. They’re not a lost cause though.”
As well as the pro-kiddy stance, La Clef is showing films like the documentary Cleveland Versus Wall Street by Jean-Stephane Bron.
It shows a make-believe court-case between the city of Cleveland, where many people have gone bankrupt and lost their homes, and a real lawyer for Wall Street, who argues that the big banks and unbridled capitalism were not to blame.
Then there's Moi, la finance and le developpement durable (Me, the world of Finance and Sustainable Development). Also showing are films in vogue like Im Sang-soo's The Housemaid, with a cruel streak and touch of eroticism, where the servant, like British Playwright Harold Pinter's, revolts in style against the complacent whip-crackers.
And coming up is a film-fest organised by Attac, an anti-globalisation, anti-big capital association, from 28 November to 2 December. If the street demonstrations against the retirement reform get too hot for some, social conscience can be assuaged in the comfort of a red velours seat at La Clef.