Romain Gavras made a splash in the ginger world with his controversial music video for M.I.A., in which he depicted redheads being rounded up and murdered. As it turned out, his interest in ginger oppression extended beyond a single music video and the gingerism theme emerged as a central component of his debut feature film, “Notre Jour Viendra” (which translates to Our Day Will Come).
Released in 2010, the movie stars Vincent Cassel of La Haine and Black Swan fame, alongside Olivier Barthélémy, a promising young actor who has won critical acclaim in the French movie sector. The plot follows a young redheaded man called Rémy (Barthélémy) as his constant oppression by peers for the colour of his hair leads him to lash out at his mother and younger sister who live with him in a cramped apartment, leading him to abandon his home and storm off in a fog of pent-up rage. He is spotted walking along the road by a bitter redheaded guidance counsellor called Patrick (Cassel), an older more jaded redhead who takes Rémy under his wing out of a combination of pity and disdain for his apparent weakness. Determined to toughen the young redhead up, the pair embark on a series of increasingly anarchistic activities whilst on a loose quest to reach Ireland, the symbolic paradise for redheads.
As a basic premise for a movie it doesn’t exactly break new ground. The theme of disillusioned individuals crashing and burning in an ostensibly oppressive society has been explored countless times. What is interesting, however, is that red hair is used as the catalyst for the out-lash this time, and in doing so raises a strong point that is voiced by Barthélémy’s character at one point in the movie: redheads are a minority group without a people, without a country, and without an army. A disconnected group whose subvertible trait is very conspicuous, but whose cause has no support, consistency or solidarity.
This touches on the ubiquitous question of whether gingerism is on the same level as racism, a question that comes up periodically in my conversations with people about the marginalisation of redheads in society. I invariably fall down on the side of it being fundamentally different in the one respect that gingerism is itself a marginal problem, at least in its most oppressive form. Until the day when gingers are forced to the back of the bus or otherwise treated systematically as second-class citizens, the issue remains one of personal, rather than societal, prejudice. This doesn’t make it right, of course, but efforts to garner any kind of support against gingerism tend to stumble because people just don’t tend to take it seriously.
The power of film is to exaggerate a concept in such a visceral way that it provokes reaction, thought and debate, and in doing so raise the perception of an issue from dismissive ambivalence to serious awareness. This is Notre Jour Viendra’s (and of course the M.I.A. video’s) most obvious achievement, if not its primary intention. Look deeper though, and there is a more fundamental message about how oppression can be used – damagingly – as an outlet for deeper psychological problems. Throughout the movie the two characters experience little, if any, actual discrimination based on their hair colour, and yet the build-up of anger and violence escalates steadily under the influence of their perceived marginalisation. At the start of the movie, Rémy is seen in a scuffle with an opposition player during a football match, then opts not to celebrate with his team-mates when they score a goal. Later, he avoids the communal showers which evokes an angry response from a team-mate who berates him for not being a team player. Patrick, meanwhile, is shown as distant and disinterested, eating a bag of crisps while his patient breaks down in tears in front of him over the fact that she is desperately poor and worried about how she will be able to feed and clothe her unborn child. As the movie develops, the pair’s eccentric and violent behaviour towards others is met with confusion, ambivalence or a natural response in kind. Yet it is all entirely unprovoked, every action instigated solely by the two protagonists without a “ginger” taunt in sight.
For Rémy and Patrick, the gingerist agenda is merely a veil, an excuse to lash out at a society from which they both feel alienated. What is under question is the cause of that alienation, and whether having red hair has anything significantly to do with it. Rémy is emotionally disjointed; he has an exceptionally strained relationship with his mother and sister at home and is wrestling with suppressed homosexuality. Patrick, meanwhile, has clearly become jaded as a result of years of exposure to his chronically gutter-bound patients. His empathy and emotional connection with the world has been completely eroded. Together they form a connection on which both become completely dependent, creating a siege mentality that leads to the very edge of destruction while chasing an elusive dream of paradise which is never quite realised.
Perhaps the most iconic moment of the film is when Patrick shaves his hair off, which is met with confusion by Rémy who is still holding onto the redhead agenda which Patrick has pretended to indulge him with throughout their escapades. Rémy, despite not understanding why, decides to shave his hair off as well, which leads to a powerful scene where the two violently gatecrash a wedding and forcibly humiliate the wedding guests. It is a scene which instantly conjures images of the neo-Nazi skinheads, and the senseless, unfounded violence associated with that group. By this point in the story the two characters have completely crossed the line into outlaw territory, essentially deepening their social isolation entirely as a result of their own self-destructive actions against an enemy that evidently doesn’t really exist. Or to put it another way, they have become the enemy, much as neo-Nazis are perceived today.
The implications of this, the primary theme of the movie, are very powerful when applied to the gingerism debate as a whole. From a non-redhead’s point of view it says something about the nature of self-hatred and the sheer destruction that social marginalisation can cause. This is a real concept, lest we forget the high school killing sprees that so shockingly illustrate its potential impact. For the redheads amongst us, it raises the not inconsiderable question of whether we really do have enemies in society, or whether our sense of marginalisation has deeper root causes that make the redhead taunts feel amplified. Notre Jour Viendra, like most French films, is more concerned with raising the questions than answering them, but it does so with impressive technique and outstanding acting performances that make for a gritty yet utterly compelling movie.
Unfortunately I was unable to find a subtitled version of the movie trailer, so here is a translation of Vincent Cassel’s monologue for the non-French speaking among you:
“If my hair bothers you, I will let it grow. If my actions or my attitudes disturb you, then I will amplify them. And when finally, in the face of your sarcasm, I can remain indifferent, I can be the man that I have to be. Then despite this disgust, despite this shame, you will love me for what I am.”