Living/Building (Habiter/Construire), by Clemence Ancelin, France, 2012 - Paris, March, 25, 2012.

Somewhere, in eastern Chad’s isolated Sahel Desert, a French company is building an asphalted road through a still and tranquil landscape, home to local inhabitants whose traditional lifestyle seems timeless. Having lived on the construction site for some time, film director Clemence Ancelin sets out to capture the co-existence of diverse forms of habitat and building techniques and depict a very specific moment in the life of this microcosm, as it stands on the brink of enormous change.

Ancelin’s documentary is ethnographically inspired – unembellished and characterized by the distant observation of the director. Her vision, however, is that of a visual artist: her shots paint an incredibly poetic picture of mundane human activities. Ancelin takes us on a slow, minutely observed and inspiring tour throughout the sparse lifestyle of desert nomads, the simple though beautifully-crafted housing of local villagers, and the modern living infrastructure and working activities of construction workers and French expatriates. 

Not once does Ancelin show partiality in the reality she depicts. She lets the characters express themselves in their own words: a nomad concerned with the danger the road might represent to his livestock; a local villager constructing his new family hut by the road in anticipation of lucrative trading opportunities; French-speaking African workers brought to the construction site describing the discrepancy between their own living conditions and those of the expatriates’; a few other local villagers simply witnessing the building of the road, sometimes enjoying the scene, but with little idea what it may mean for them. 

There is, however, some nostalgia in Ancelin’s gaze. We can feel her empathy with Mount Karaye, a mineral character that appears throughout the movie - the impassive observer of the changes taking place at its feet: most surely the only element that will remain unaltered by the road. 


 Frederique Guerin, Special Correspondent, The Global Journal.


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