Architecture on Film: The Wild Frontier

A vital and absorbing portrait of the Calais ‘jungle’ and its community of displaced migrants. Nicolas Klotz & Elisabeth Perceval's crucial film treats its epic content with great sensitivity. UK Premiere.


07:00pm, Tuesday, 20 March 2018


10:45pm, Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Cinema 1
Barbican Centre, Level -2
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS



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The Wild Frontier [L'Héroïque Lande, La Frontière Brûle] (UK Premiere)

The Wild Frontier presents a highly sensitive portrait of the now demolished Calais ‘jungle’ and its community of displaced migrants. Through observing and residing within the sprawl, systems and life of the temporary city for at times up to 12,000 people – paying intimate attention to a selection of its residents’ lives, experiences, aspirations and journeys – filmmakers Klotz and Perceval offer a film of witness and solidarity composed through pure and vital cinema.

“Our lives and our ways of looking at things are so stifled by information and its instant propagation that we can no longer see what’s real. That stifled state has become our reality.”
- Nicolas Klotz

The absorbing film’s cameras frame rather than dictate the camp’s actuality, presenting its residents not within a spectacle of suffering, but as the agents of a temporary community living on the border between Europe and elsewhere; a territory of uncertainty, pragmatism, hope and invention. Through spending time and paying quiet attention the film uniquely reveals and records fragments of the reality and truth of an acute site – physically, politically and psychologically – within the migrant crisis.

As the camp smoulders following its destruction at the film’s conclusion, its residents displaced once again, the heat of the continuing situation lingers; the Jungle revealed as but a chapter in an ongoing epic of global proportions.

France, 2016, Nicolas Klotz & Elisabeth Perceval, 225 mins

Programme notes by Cíntia Gil

Director, Doclisboa international Film Festival

I work with the hands and the legs and the head and the eyes and the nose and the tongue and the hair and the skin and the stomach and the intestines. I am no turkey with steal feathers. I am a turkey with God feathers.
– Vaslav Nijinsky, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky1

After an hour of film, five scenes stand together to give us the abyss of “The Wild Frontier”: a sky with flying kites, manoeuvred by a masked creature; white iron double fences, filled with barbed wire, crossed by the muscular bodies of policemen; a child wandering and crossing a space at a confident pace among ambiguous constructions, a space whose floor is made of burnt light, a space in tones of silver; a raging, energetic electronic rhythm; and the voice of a man speaking to the camera: “We are in Calais. Life is hard. We are naked, our clothes are dirty” – he raises his hand as if in salutation.

The first part of the film is named ‘The Birth of a Nation’, after D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film. Nicolas Klotz describes his own film’s invocation of Griffith’s work: “‘Birth of a Nation’ by Griffith almost invented cinema. And at the same time, it is the most racist film in history. Our film is a conjuring of Griffith’s film.”2 If Klotz and Perceval prolong, in The Wild Frontier, gestures from their previous work (in particular, the concern of ‘The Wound’ (2004) with the immigrant experience) through their new film they also again confront the question of what political cinema can be today. How can and should a political cinema relate to itself and its subject, within the present’s continuous stabilisation of political and politicised figures, the institutionalisation of their testimony, of their bodies, words, and images?

“The Jungle, is the world of tomorrow”, says Klotz. How to film a territory that has been so often filmed (in Calais but also in other places); a territory so often crystallised and characterised - through the act of filming - as a place of disappearance; a place that annihilates bodies and gestures through their cinematic transformation into abstract narratives that hide, rather than reveal, men and women through acts of complacent and docile victimisation? The Wild Frontier is not a film about figures delivered to and for the devouring apparatus of institutional reasoning - it is “a film about a coming world”, about men and women who, like the slaves of other times, are displaced, far away from their own tasks, objects, tools and habits, people who have to invent their own dance and build a new common.

This nation being born is filmed by Klotz and Perceval as a territory that concentrates the overwhelming potency of the histories of men in displacement and mutation, carrying entangled landscapes with them in a perpetual movement. The Wild Frontier is a film full of the symbolic weight of fleeing slaves, of communities built on the borders of territories, of discourses, and of identitarian representations. The filmmakers have identified this as their political force. To film in this territory is a task where the act of attention is haunted by invocations and choices: “Which humanity do we want to film?”3 Klotz and Perceval asked themselves in their film “Pariah” (2000) – a portrait of lives lived on the streets of Paris on the eve of the millennium.

In ‘Nudities’, philosopher Agamben tells us about the ‘glorious’ body, about another use of the body and of its relation to the common: “The goal of the organs, as of every instrument, is their operation; but that doesn’t mean that if the operation disappears, the instrument becomes vain. The organ or the instrument that was separated from its operation and that stays, to say, suspended, acquires exactly for that reason an ostensive function and exhibits the virtue corresponding to the suspended operation. (...) The glorious body is an ostensive body, whose functions are not executed, but shown (...).”4

After the second hour of film, a pot of hot milk is taken away from a fire to be served in cups. A man warms his hands, his lost gaze finds the camera and looks at it as if in recognition. Klotz talks to an inhabitant: the camp will probably be destroyed. The only possible words come in the form of questions: What are we doing here? What is the future? What are we going to do? The only possible answer, repeated, is: I don’t know. One doesn’t know, he doesn’t know, and he only repeats that there are women and children. After that, the camera faces the standing policemen, armed to the teeth, absurd figures in a half destroyed space, behind pieces of cloth drying in the wind.

The mediatic reason, the political reason, the paternalistic-victimising reason, the abstract reason is a reason that, as Nijinsky said, is able to understand but cannot feel. It can understand that the Jungle was a dirty hard place, but it cannot feel the potency of the new life this place was giving form to. And it is precisely from this position that The Wild Frontier speaks to us: from a tempestuous place where a dancing body offers proof that the Jungle is indestructible. It is a new world coming to life. Political filmmaking is above all a sensitive form of exhibiting that real force, separated from any other purpose. Rendering it both common and singular, agile, working against the present, in the present.

1 Vaslav Nijinsky (1913-1950) was an early 20th century ballet dancer and choreographer [Ed].
2Africultures, Interviewed by Anne Bocandé, 3rd January 2018
3 Les Inrocks, Interviewed by Serge Kagansky, 10th September 2007
4Giorgio Agamben, Nudités, Payot & Rivages, Paris, 2009, pp. 158/9 [translated from the French]