A documentary by Olivier Babinet. In French, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
A visit to one of the most dangerous Paris suburbs is full of hopeful surprises in Swagger, which lives up to its name by letting 11 teens talk about what they’ve accomplished and what they hope to do with their open possibilities.
Veteran music-video director Olivier Babinet brings his own visual swag to this lovingly shot doc, which follows its subjects at school, on city streets, and in and around the huge projects of Aulnay-sous-Bois. Popula-ted by mostly poor African and Arab immigrants and their increasingly assimilated children, this outpost has been home to riots, police actions, and crime movies in the past decade.
Presumably, places like this are why Trump’s friend “Jim” doesn’t go to Paris anymore. But Babinet, who spent two years gaining the trust of locals before filming, takes drug dealers and turf wars as a given, instead focusing on kids who’ve made peace with their surroundings. Only one, an extremely shy and possibly traumatized teen named Aissatou, stands alone during recess and haltingly expresses general anxiety. The rest exhibit ease with peers of all backgrounds and speak genially about their plans. A fastidiously coiffed fellow called Regis plans to be a fashion stylist, and we believe him. Paul, the only immigrant from India, wears a natty dark suit every day and plays drums in a church group.
Babinet takes his subjects on stylistic flights of fancy, staging a robotic dance number in a welding class and having Paul lip-synch down school hallways to a ’50s rockabilly number. Other sequences utilize multiple drones and saturated colours to swooning, dreamlike effect. The approach can get a bit precious, as when the director intercuts thoughtful but unrelated reaction shots from other kids while one teen is talking.
Still, the 85-minute movie mostly lets the subjects be their engaging, sometimes wild-card selves, as with the youngest interviewee, a wise-eyed, black-haired Arab girl named Naila, who recalls two trips to Disneyland Paris, but she didn’t like them, because she later pictured Mickey Mouse growing huge and going on a Godzilla-like destruction spree, joined by an army of blond Barbies. “Because they’re all the same,” she says, with one eyebrow up.