The real is leaders whose relationship to the world is only comprised of statistics, figures and data and have lost all sense of reality and humanity

The real is when at 3 years old you ask your mother why that woman and that man are sleeping on the ground, and when you’re 20, you’ve got to find the words to explain to your son why this woman and this man are sleeping on the ground

The real is the way in which we abandon our elders, mistreat our “crazy”, and our death we don’t talk about anymore, fake to forget and fear so much

The real is public men, or so-called politicians, who think of themselves as kings, and declare with a sly smile upon their lips that we can’t welcome all the world’s misery – but have no problem whatsoever to manufacture, propagate and maintain it

The real is arms dealers who rub their hands together when the stock exchange loses its mind at each conflict, each bloodshed and each attack

The real is that the life of a white person is worth more than any other

The real is the way governments shamelessly criminalise all solidarity among women and men, and constantly destroy any possible human link, any collective thought for our well-being, and our lack of reaction, our sorry apathy

The real is the contempt, the arrogance, the cowardice, the ignorance, the cynicism and the obscene hypocrisy of the petit-bourgeois

The real is the way in which the essence of each of our languages is transformed, reduced, crippled, by commercial discourse, and how we don’t even realise it

The real is stolen and looted lands, peoples murdered under the guise of civilisations or democracies; when in fact, it’s only a question of enlarging empires and profit

The real is so-called civilised states that want us to believe that migration, welcome in the past because it brought cheap labour, is today endangering our societies, and therefore humiliate, gas, lock up, mistreat, and kill those who find the strength to leave their misery or their country at war, thereby feeding fascism

The real is treaties, conventions, pacts, created by those who are the first to never respect or abide by them

The real is a justice always unjust

The real is baby girls forced into marriage, beaten women dying every minute, a permanent and insidious violence towards each other, because one thinks, loves or fucks differently

The real is to battle the poor instead of their misery

The real is death-dealing societies that never gave a shit about human or natural growth, who poison our bodies, our heads, slaughter the living for money, and hide behind false humanist speeches

The real is teenagers from around the world, who, since the beginning of time, stand up and fight as best they can to tell us enough is enough, and how nobody ever listens

The real is the infusion of shock and fear into all bodies by means of images, loud speeches, unconscious and sensationalist headlines, in order to hide the obscenity of the world

The real is to have confused freedom of speech and freedom of hatred by giving the floor to some, and then act astonished when their actions bite you in the ass

The real is the inability of humans to live together even when they dream of a world based on the common good

The real…
and then the real is…

A man who gives his sweater to the woman or man sleeping on the ground

Kids who don’t find their place in the world, who fight alongside peasants to protect land, or workers who are treated like cattle, smash the very symbols which mock them as they are called out for being worthless and useless ignorants

People in neighbourhoods who decide to feed other people who don’t speak their language, or others who, lost or adrift, who no longer have the capacity of speech, and fight alone in the streets of the country of “human rights”

Bodies of all ages, races, and social backgrounds, walking side by side to oppose dishonest and unjust states, and who heal and conceal their baton injuries and their burned tear-gassed eyes in some random staircase

The real is that no matter how much they want us to believe that because we come from elsewhere or think differently we should hate each other, there are still people who love one another

The real is that there has been, there is and always will be, men and women who fight indecency and institutionalised horror, despite the violence, despite the prisons, despite the fear

The real is that if you got to this point and now comes a grin upon your face, a slight contempt expressed by the back of your hand, or harbor a certain paternalistic condescendence, leave me the fuck alone and walk your way

and then the real, is…

Lillian Gish in tears, who with her hand, forces the corners of her lips into a smile in D. W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, and Buster Keaton, who makes the same gesture with a revolver aimed at his heart in Go West

Buñuel’s happy vitriol

The songs of the workers and their natural grace in each of Renoir’s films

Chaplin’s speech in The Great Dictator, or the confrontation of the young Rupert with his Majesty Shahdov in A King in New York, his shoe soup in The Gold Rush, his hand-petaled smile in City Lights, or the violence of industrialisation in Modern Times

The face of the child who whistles and shouts while gathering his flock in Cordeiro and Reis’ Trás-Os-Montes, and the ageless mystery that haunts us in each of their films

The children’s rage and the weakness of men in all of Pialat

The masterful choreography of the absurd in Tati

The drunkenness of Jennifer Jones in Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown

Rock Hudson’s clumsiness in Hawks’ Man’s Favorite Sport?, Rosalind Russell’s verve in His Girl Friday, or Lauren Bacall’s pungent elegance in To Have and Have Not

Hands that seek, avoid, hug, flee, steal, hide, discover, transmit, take, give, receive, touch, bump, die, caress, move and shiver in Bresson

The struggle of 19th-century French peasants, which enlists with that of 20th-century Egyptian workers in Straub and Huillet’s Too Soon, Too Late; the eternal refusal to helplessly witness the rampage of the world, and the amour fou that roars in each of their films

Zita, Vanda, Pango, Ventura and all the others in Pedro Costa’s films, who testify to a world in ruin, and whisper their own lives in the middle of rubble

The eternal violence of men facing madness in Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies
The nearly 40-year ban of René Vautier’s Africa 50

The faces of an entire people at the fall of the Soviet Union in Chantal Akerman’s D’Est

Setsuko Hara’s laugh as she dines with her father, and the love she shows him while packing her little suitcase in Ozu’s Late Spring.  The tears that are not shown in Tokyo Story. And all the women who walk next to a man, all the men who walk next to a woman, sometimes gently taking their arm, often in silence, and that we almost always leave from afar, to respect their intimacy

The reinvented language and the fantastic gibberish in Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Poto and Cabengo

The dignity of Woody Strode when confronted by racism in Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge and that of Stan in Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep

The men who burn, gouge and cut the tips of their fingers in order to destroy their fingerprints in Sylvain George’s May They Rest in Revolt

The mocking and defiant laughter of Jason Holliday, the Black, gay hustler in Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason

The magic and the rituals of men in Jean Rouch

Hideko Takamine’s battle in Mikio Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, or her endless love in Floating Clouds. The way she rests her head on the shoulder of the man she loves, her shivering unsteady body racing under the rain

Two men killing each other in the desert in Von Stroheim’s Greed, the bird released from its cage, and that damned gold shining in the sand that is useless

And then a thousand other gestures, minuscule, modest, powerful, playful, avenging, loving, silent or furious.
Women and Men standing, because if they lay down they’ll choke.
Standing because not yet dead.
The real doesn’t exist.
There is only fragment, distance, reconciliation, here, elsewhere.
Only views upon a fragmented reality exist.
In lights, shadows, time, shapes, poetics, politics, each and all different.
And that’s why, when the so-called modern world seeks to impose a single uniformity of look, of thought, or rather of non-thought, we must fight to preserve these diversities which question the world, avenge it, love it, curse it, embrace it, think about it, offering us, perhaps, the possibility of constructing something else, differently.

and then…

Your voice, your eyes…
… your hands, your lips…
Our silences, our words…
Light that goes…
Light that returns…
A single smile between us
In quest of knowledge, I watched night create day…
while we seemed unchanged
O beloved of all, beloved of one alone
your mouth silently promised to be happy
Away, away, says hate;
Closer, closer, says love
A caress leads us from our infancy
Increasingly I see the human form
As a lover’s dialogue
The heart has but one mouth
Everything by chance
All words without thought
Sentiments adrift
Men roam the city
A glance, a word
Because I love you
Everything moves
We must advance to live
Aim straight ahead toward those you love
I went toward you, endlessly toward the light
If you smile, it enfolds me all the better
The rays of your arms pierced the mist

(Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard after Paul Éluard, 1965)

© Valérie Massadian

This piece originally appeared in print form as part of a book published on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Cinéma du Réel festival, in which filmmakers were asked by artistic director Andréa Picard to respond to the question, “What is Real?”. Andréa Picard (ed.), Que’est-ce que le réel? Des cinéastes prennent position / What is Real? Filmmakers Weigh In, Cinéma du Réel, Post Editions, Paris, 2018. Republished with permission from Valérie Massadian, and thanks to Andréa Picard.

About The Author

Valérie Massadian is a Franco-Armenian photographer and filmmaker. Her work concentrates on female characters, their animality, how they relate to the world and nature.