The Specter of French Anti-Semitism Needs a Smarter Film Than “Spiral”


The makers of the aimlessly provocative French sociopolitical docu-essay Spiral encourage viewers to wallow in the unexamined prejudices and petty resentments that have led several thousand French Jews to respond to recent anti-Semitic crimes — like the 2014 Sarcelles riots or the 2012 school shootings in Toulouse — by fleeing to Israel.

Director Laura Fairrie indulges the aimless paranoia of supposedly representative French community leaders — particularly Jewish teacher Francois and Muslim social worker Nadil — by following these men (they’re almost all dudes) as they drive around the West Bank or Paris’s Little Jerusalem suburb and talk about how self-destructive and/or closed off the Jewish community can be.

Fairrie’s unfocused examination of anti-Semitism illuminates little. Francois sounds like a bunker-dwelling survivalist when he observes that “if we succumb to fear and psychosis, there are two solutions: You either pack your things or you fight.” And Nadil seems to have a persecution complex when he notes that a group of Israeli soldiers who idly cry out, “Hey!” (after Fairrie’s crew films them, seemingly without permission, as Nadil drives past) are “going to follow us,” so he should drive to the “secret underground parking lot.” (No soldiers are shown following Nadil).

Fairrie even stirs the proverbial shit by sandwiching Nadil and Francois’s Travis Bickle–like ranting between contextless anti-Semitic soundbites from bigots like Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, a Glenn Beck–style pundit and self-described “clown” who raves incoherently about being persecuted and censored by “Jewish slave masters” and “businessmen of the Holocaust.” Spiral may be effectively aggravating, but it’s never thoughtful enough to be good for the Jews.

Directed by Laura Fairrie
Cohen Media Group
Opens June 22, Quad Cinema


Click here to sign up for our weekly film and TV newsletter.