By Serita Stevens
While the black and white film May 15th in Paris (Le Quinze Mai a Paris) by pioneer filmmaker Barbara De Fina is a short in French with subtext, it speaks louder than most feature films. Having worked with award winning Martin Scorsese for over 40 years Ms. De Fina has learned her craft as she compares modern day Paris to the city in the 1840’s.
Directed by Janek Ambros and distributed by Marie Adler of Adler and Associates Entertainment, Inc., it tells the story of the poor and middle class French in 1830 who felt neglected by their King Louis Philippe whom they saw as favoring the elite and landowners. As the years went on laws became stricter for the people and finally they banned together and stormed the palace as they then created the Second Republic which was supposed to be a populist government keeping the needs of the people in mind.
It wasn’t long, however, before those running the Second Republic began to favor the same rich patrons and ignored the working class. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte rose up. A charismatic leader he made promises to the people and many of the upper class supported him as the “least worst” candidate. He was, they thought, a man who would restore order. and take their of their rights. A good proportion of the industrial working class voted for Louis-Napoleon with his vague indications of progressive economic views. His overwhelming victory was mainly due to support from the non-politicized rural masses. The name Bonaparte already carried meaning and the other contenders had no real history. The neglected middle class had become fed up and disenfranchised with those in power. They placed their hopes in idealists and extremists who waved the banner of populism and promises of Bonaparte.
Power soon rushed to Bonaparte‘s head. In 1851 he lead a coup de etat as he took control of the Second Republic. That accomplished, he slowly strangled the rights of the disenchanted masses. Declaring himself a emperor of France and dictator he turned France into a fascist state.
Considering the modern events of Brexit in Britain and the election of President Donald Trump in the United States this eye-opening film which juxtaposes imagery of modern-day Paris to past history has extreme relevance today. In narration it tells the story of May 15, 1848, showing how protesters pushed the French establishment to give them the popular vote. Only after they elected the ruler whom they thought would protect their interests did they see their revolution backfire and turn against their own interests.
We can only hope that history is not doomed to repeat itself.