The opening scene of French Burkinabé film director Cédric Ido's film La Gravité (The Gravity) is a powerful flashback sequence that sets the scene for this captivating dystopian tale set in the Parisian banlieue of Seine-Saint-Denis—the infamous "93" heralded in some of the best French rap tracks. Speaking to AfroToronto on a recent phone interview while in Toronto during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Ido discussed the many subtle and not-so-subtle references and homages to life on "la cité."
The main protagonist, Daniel (played by Max Gomis) is an aspiring athlete with a dream to make a better life for himself. But he's torn between three directions: his girlfriend Sabrina (Hafsia Herzi) who's putting the finishing touches to their plans to move to Canada and leave the troubled neighbourhood behind, his track coach who hopes to see him run into national success, and his mobility-challenged brother Joshua (Steve Tientcheu) who has no idea Daniel has plans to possibly leave him behind.
Anyone familiar with the socio-economic and racial dynamics of the Parisian urban underclass knows the very tight interactions, camaraderie and sometimes tension between the banlieue's Black (mainly West African and Caribbean) and Arab (North African) populations. Ido purposely left the question open about Daniel and Sabrina's daughter who looks fully North African. "I wanted the audience to wonder if their daughter, Naya, was Daniel's daughter or not."
A new mystical twist on a familiar tale
Of course, we've seen past notable films chronicling the harsh realities of the Parisian banlieues (or suburbs), such as La Haine, but The Gravity explores a wonderfully novel element reflecting Ido's interests in Japanese culture and mystique, along with a dose of fantasy.
One of the most striking things about The Gravity is its unique visual style. The film is shot in a desaturated colour palette that gives it a gritty, almost post-apocalyptic feel.
There's a sense of heavy anticipation of an impending cosmic shift. A young gang of drug dealers known as the rōnin — “samurai without master” — view the upcoming planetary event as a call for violent ritualistic sacrifice. For a while, they've already been disturbing the former equilibrium on the streets of the neighbourhood by gradually and then completely taking over the territories of the old guard. One of the former rules of the "93" streets is Christophe (Jean-Baptiste Anoumon), who has returned to the cité after spending three years in jail. He was ratted out and he's back with a thirst for vengeance and retribution. But he soon realizes that the power dynamics and the rules of engagement have changed.
This cinéma de banlieue with a sci-fi twist makes for powerful storytelling.