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Striking Achievements

The final weekend of "Premises: French Cinema, 1958­1998," the Guggenheim's three-month retrospective, offers two intriguing journeys through antibourgeois French society. Mehdi Charef's Tea in the Harem (1985) follows a pair of charismatic teenage vagrants around a Parisian suburb populated by North Africans, West Africans, and down-and-out French workers. Despite occasional lapses into melodrama, this mother of all banlieue films, with its lyricism and subtlety, shows up the limitations of the genre's more recent incarnations.

Hervé Le Roux's Reprise(1996) begins with a fragment of cinematic history: a 10-minute student film of workers returning to their jobs after the strikes of May 1968. "I won't go back to that jail!" screams a young woman outside the Wonder battery factory, while union leaders and Maoist agitators try coaxing her back to the assembly line. Thirty years later, Le Roux sets out in search of her story, interviewing coworkers, witnesses, and other participants. Along the way, his three-hour film charts three decades of the French labor movement, from 19th-century conditions in 1960s factories to the precariousness of work in postindustrial society. Somewhere in this history, the woman's rage and the dreams of a generation are stored.

 
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