Might is right

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In director Patric Jean's film, residents of French suburban slums ('la banlieue') tell their stories of exclusion and discrimination by employers and the legal and prison systems which prevent them from participating in French society and 'normal' life. As they see it, they are paralyzed by marginalization, while the rest of society enjoys economic prosperity and consumerism. It is a downward spiral with no way out; the documentary exposes their plight and illustrates the ways in which government and society maintain these circumstances.

Social Interest
The documentary exposes the ways slum dwellers are marginalized. Even those lucky and ambitious enough to have completed a university education face an arduous struggle when trying to find work. Unemployment and lack of other options leads to frustration, depression, and ultimately to violent and antisocial behavior, which in turn makes success even less likely. With no job and no money, there is little left to lose, which leads to dangerous situations, both in and outside of the slums.

Historic Relevance
When factories in France shut down during the recession of the 1970s, the suburbs were abandoned by those who could afford to do so. Those who remained formed an underclass of post-WWII immigrants from southern Europe, Asia and especially North Africa. The documentary concludes that the French government has ultimately failed to maintain acceptable living conditions in the suburban slums.

Political Relevance
A society of equal rights, the ideal of European democracy, is questioned in the film. Images of luxurious shopping centers, beautiful architecture and modern museums stand in stark contrast to the city's other face, the suburban slums. Though the film was made in France, similar situations exist in other democratic societies, a fact that Patric Jean emphasizes by allowing the residents featured to remain anonymous. This is not a local problem, but a global one.

About the filmmaker
Patric Jean is a Belgian documentary filmmaker, born in 1968 in Borinage. About his hometown, he made the documentary "Les enfants du Borinage". In his films Patric Jean often explores the social consequences of prolonged economic underdevelopment. A recurring strongpoint is his ability to inspire confidence into his film subjects, thereby lending a voice to their taciturn poverty.

Buy the DVD
You can buy the DVD or order the film for broadcast or theatrical release through the following links:

  • Centre Video Bruxelles


  • A pregnant example of how discrimination works in Lyon, France
  • A very outspoken young man eloquently explains how discrimination works and is provoking and humitiating French natives of Arab descent in a city like Lyon.
  • Outline of people's problems in the suburbs, 'Les Banlieues', of France
  • Two guys are playing guitar on a rooftop, which shows a panorama view of the ’banlieue' of Lyon. Meanwhile a voice-over gives a shortened explanation about the problems of people living in the suburban slums of cities in France, also known as ‘la banlieue’ . The residents of these areas are not able and allowed to participate in ‘normal’ society.
  • Interview in cellar with younsters living in a 'banlieue'
  • ‘For the city folks, we are rats’, says one of the guys. They tell how they are pushed to the sidelines in all kind of ways.
  • Impossible to find a job
  • A resident who grew up in a banlieue tells about the difficulty of finding a job, even if you are qualified. Bosses at companies are afraid of hiring ‘foreign’ people.
  • A resident claims that the police is guilty in violence outbursts
  • A resident of a banlieue was able to film a police-raid in one of the cellars close to his building. According to him, a birthday was celebrated there at the moment without any trouble. The police started the uproar by gassing the people inside. Days of violence followed. The resident claims that the police is guilty of the violence outbursts in the area.
  • Images of prison life in France
  • Images show the poor conditions of a prison in France. Prisoners tell about their experiences and their perspective of the future which is not very optimistic. According to them, they do not get a second chance and are doomed in society for the next ten years. This is how they end up in a vicious circle.
  • Typical example of the vicious circle a lot of people have to deal with
  • This man lost his job, because the company he was working for was sold and he could not handle the amount of work. Since then, he is in and out of prison all of the time, because of shop theft. He does not have a place to live and no way out of the situation.
  • Images of camera-surveillances at night in the city
  • Camera’s record everything that happens in the streets. Suspicious behavior of individuals or groups is followed closely.
  • Example of a law case
  • The client is charged because of small things. According to his lawyer he is not a serious criminal. Prison is not the right place for him, he needs individual assistance. This may be impossible, because many people are waiting for this kind of help.
  • A look inside a Law Court in France
  • The staff working at the law courts and how they deal with people committing small crimes. It shows a painful relation between system and people.
  • Detailed example of a law case
  • The client ended up in a fight with policemen on a platform at the train station, because he did not have a ticket. He admits this was wrong, but he claims the police chose him because of his looks and they started the fight. This case represents again the difficulty between system and individuals.
  • Demonstration against the prison system
  • A lot of people gather together around the prison to demonstrate against living conditions in prison. Sometimes prisoners die because of a bad health condition or commit suicide. With banners and by talking through a megaphone the demonstrators show their support to relatives and friends in prison.
  • Radio program connects family and prisoners
  • All kind of messages broadcasted by the radio from fathers, mothers, children, lovers to the prisoners.
  • A prisoner’s outline on how life works in the lower social class
  • A prisoner tells about living in a world of money, without having any money. The lower social class is looking at this consuming world without the possibility to participate. The system of society makes it impossible for them to join.
  • Confronted with isolation cell after trying to commit suicide
  • A prisoner tried to kill himself after he did not get his medication in time. He begs the prison guards not to put him in the isolation cell. He promises them to go to bed and sleep, but he has to stay in there.
  • Start of segregation in Marseille
  • An immigrant artist tells about the situation in Marseille. In contrast with other cities in France, immigrants have been living in the center of the city, but this is changing. Apartments are getting very expensive and more and more white French people move into the area.
  • Example of immigrants living in centre of Marseille and forced to move from their house
  • Tragic situation of a family living in a house that is falling apart. The city authorities of Marseille will start renovating after they have left. The authorities want to make it a touristy area and people from North African descent are not gladly seen in such an area.