COMBAT AU BOUT DE LA NUIT
(Fighting Through the Night)
by Sylvain L'Espérance
documentary, 2016, HD, colour, 285 min, Québec
Filmed over the course of two years, Combat au bout de la nuit is a long journey to the heart of Greece today. In this country thrown into torment by a totalitarian economy, institutional violence is met with stubborn resistance. Driven by both complementary and dissonant energies, the film is suffused with a desire for freedom and the rebellious power of the people it brings together. Whether they are native Athenians, Syrian or Afghan refugees, cleaning women or unemployed longshoremen, volunteer doctors or the homeless, all these men and women, all their stories, respond to each other and weave unexpected connections. By following the people who are struggling to build a different future, Combat au bout de la nuit leads us to the insight that amidst today’s chaos, a new shared world, its shape still uncertain, is slowly emerging.
About the title
The film’s title comes from a poem by Tassos Livaditis, "Combat au bout de la nuit" (translated into English as "Battle at the Edge of the Night"), written during his imprisonment on the island of Makronissos after the Second World War. Thousands of Greek communists, poets and free thinkers were imprisoned in so-called “re-education camps” that were, in fact, concentration camps. For the prisoners, living in constant terror, poetry was the only refuge.
While reading the poems of Livaditis, as well as those of Yannis Ritsos and Aris Alexandrou, I was struck by their modernity and the many ways in which their words resonate with the situation in Greece today.
After the closing of Europe’s borders, leaving more than 50,000 refugees caught in the country and several thousand more detained in camps, in a Greece born of the surrender of Syriza to the will of the Troika’s financiers, poetry is one of the few forms of speech voicing strong opposition to an economic war that is choking entire peoples.
The film begins with this excerpt from Livaditis’ poem:
“What is there, shining in the dark
Is it the sun
A man is in flames
A man lights up the night
Standing at the gate
he lights up the night
They splashed him with gas
and set him on fire
A huge fire already sets
the world ablaze
Let’s go and warm up tonight
Watch the sky
See if we are dead.”
(Tassos Livaditis, Combat au bout de la nuit, from L'amertume et la pierre, poètes au camp de Makronissos, Ypsilon Éditeur, translated to English by Gérard Grugeau from the French translation done by Pascal Neveu)
Today’s Greece is a laboratory for unfettered capitalism. It is devastating the entire country, plunging the people into previously unthinkable poverty and transforming the region into a disaster area. What is being implemented in Greece is emerging as a template and spreading across southern Europe. The same process could, ultimately, be applied throughout the West, and we are even seeing it start right here in Quebec.
At the heart of this film is the city of Athens, where every Mediterranean struggle is playing out. There is the struggle of the Greek people, as they refuse to surrender to a predatory state and are joining forces to respond to the destruction of every social structure. There is the struggle of the refugees and migrants fleeing devastating wars, while being treated as “illegals” who must live in the shadows in order to escape the police that have pursued them since the 2000s. It was not until people started fleeing their home countries by the hundreds of thousands, as happened in 2015 with the Syrians and Afghans who reached the Greek islands via Turkey, that the migrants were finally seen for what they are: refugees.
In the film the unemployed, the homeless and refugees share a single space made possible by cinema. Combat au bout de la nuit makes connections by bringing together the presence and voices of these men and women, and by showing their diverse forms of struggle against marginalization. The film has a central question: how can we bring people together to help them survive, and especially show the way to a different future? That is what the Greeks are trying to do in many different ways through a network of solidarity groups in healthcare, education, housing and other fields. This film highlights their struggle.
Greece entered the Euro Zone on the basis of falsified economic data. The manipulation finally came to light during the crisis of 2008, and the country was forced, in the spring of 2010, to seek financial assistance from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A loan of 110 billion euros was pledged with the following conditions: the VAT would be increased to 23%, pensions would be cut, the retirement age for women would increase from 60 to 65, public servants’ benefits would be slashed, state-owned communication, transportation and energy firms would be liberalized and privatized, and the labour market would be reformed to facilitate dismissals. But these drastic measures weakened the Greek economy; in 2012, a second loan, this time for 130 billion euros, was granted by the Troika (as the ECB, IMF and European Commission are collectively known). The Greek government was forced by its creditors to promise a new round of budget cuts. Austerity became the only possible approach to government: hospital closures, the shuttering of the state television network, massive layoffs of government workers, a reduction of the minimum wage, pension cuts, the privatization of state companies, the sale of the port of Athens, the sale of farmland and collective goods to foreign interests, etc. These principles and their devastating effects prompted the election of Syriza in January 2015, with the aim of reversing course and starting a true European solidarity movement. But the election instead left an opening for the representatives of finance capital to show that there was no alternative to its unilaterally imposed rules. They brought an entire country to its knees, as seen at the end of the (non) negotiations from February to July, 2015. The capitulation of the Tsipras government, even after it won a referendum against the Troika’s policies, led to a third memorandum imposing even harsher measures than the previous ones.
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