Sunday, September 9, 2012

Misère au Borinage

The Borinage is best known for its former coalmining industry. The living conditions of the miners were featured in the famous documentary film 'Misère au Borinage' (1933) made by Henri Storck and Joris Ivens.
In 1932, a great strike paralysed the coalmines of Wallonia and the response of employers and the police had been merciless. Throughout it all the broader population was ill-informed and largely indifferent. André Thirifays, Pierre Vermeylen and all the indignant young people involved in the Club de l'écran, decided to bear witness to this dire poverty using their weapon, the camera. With the aid of a doctor and a lawyer, with very little funding, hiding from the police but supported by the whole population, the shoot took place in difficult and exciting conditions.
The film is hard and has lost nothing of its strength: evictions; thin-faced and absent-looking children packed together in slum houses; the procession with the portrait of Karl Marx; the collecting of low grade coal on the slagheaps at dawn; the begging miner etc.
There is also the shock of images placed side by side: houses standing empty while homeless people sleep in the street, near-famine conditions with no aid, whereas big sums of money go to construct a church...
And it was all repeated in the 1960's, with the closure of the mines. This great picture is by Dolf Kruger.

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