Fatherly guardedness is what defines Jean-René Etangsalé in the memory of his daughter, filmmaker and documentarian Erika Etangsalé. His being tight-lipped, however, was more a product of circumstance, and thus, the two’s respective memories are somewhat in contrast with one another. “I don’t think I was the silent type,” offers Jean-René. “Anyways, what matters is that we are talking now.”
That “now” is the present setting of Etangsalé’s documentary, In the Billowing Night, which in utilizing interviews with her father — as well as evocative landscape interstitials and archival family material — reconstructs his experience in being displaced under the auspices of the cruel and exploitive BUMIDOM as a teenager from the island of Réunion to France, which his own ancestors had been brought to as slaves in the not-so-distant past. With all this history that comes to bear, Jean-René retains a pragmatic and even self-effacing aura: his answers are measured, one gets the impression that these are testimonies he’s been mulling over for years now. “When you’re young, you never think about returning,” he states, his eyes looking away from the camera as he continues to outline the universal obliviousness of youth he experienced.
With what looks like 16mm filmstock, Etangsalé augments her father’s word with almost pedestrian, everyday images of their Parisian suburb, which buttresses this prevailing sensation of perpetual alienation, that immigrants are expelled and ostracized from even the most mundane of spaces. Streetlights at dusk, parents paying bills — all retain a portent that a more histrionic documentary would didactically proffer. In the Billowing Night maintains its quietude, and its tragedy resounds all the louder.
Published as part of Prismatic Ground 2022 — Dispatch 1.