Laurent Cantet denounces the tyranny of social networks and the culture of cancellation in a film based on the true story of a writer whose career ended as a result of some provocative tweets published years ago
Social networks as a dizzying springboard to fame without intermediaries and also as a people’s court that summarily judges, convicts and executes without the right to defence. ‘Arthur Rambo’, the film with which Laurent Cantet participated at the last San Sebastian Festival, tells about all this. It was the sixth time that this portraitist of the convulsions of contemporary France took part in the Zinemaldia. Cantet, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2008 with ‘The Class’, remains committed to “showing the complexity of our world”. Twitter and the culture of cancellation are the subject of the gaze of this humanist who dreamed of becoming a diver and which we will not find on social networks.
The main character of the film is a young writer of Algerian descent (Rabah Naït Oufella, who made his debut with Cantet in ‘The Class’), who, thanks to the freshness of his prose and his presence on the Internet with videos, is the new literary sensation in France. Karim D. lives in a cloud of success and is about to make the final leap from the suburbs, from the ‘banlieue’, to the center of chic Paris. The night he celebrates his new book at a publishing party and even his leap into the cinema as a director to edit the novel, he revives old tweets he wrote years ago under the alias Arthur Rambo, a play on words with Arthur Rimbaud, who in the French is pronounced like Stallone’s character. They are provocative phrases that want to shock, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes… The more heavyweights, the more travel they will have on the Internet and the more followers they will get.
The story of this fictional writer is inspired by that of Mehdi Meklat, a writer, blogger and radio commentator who experienced something similar to the protagonist. In our country, tweets about the Holocaust also made the politician Guillermo Zapata and the director Nacho Vigalondo suffer. “Mehdi wrote very well-thought-out articles about the ‘banlieue’, participated in a much-listened program on national radio and was very facilitating,” Cantet explains. “His books were very well received, but just the day the second came out, tweets from the past appeared, written under a pseudonym, as if to tell him that his success was not legitimate. Within hours his literary life ended and he was forever scarred by that story. Meklat apologized in a new book two years later, but it was too late. “Those tweets didn’t reflect his ideas, they were written to grab attention and gain followers because the more provocative you are, the more followers you’ll have. He fell into that trap.”
‘Arthur Rambo’ confirms that social networks play a central role in the life of anyone who wants to devote themselves to a creative profession. The main character knows how to deal with them in order to ascend to the Olympus of virality. He doesn’t take his eyes off the phone and looks for plugs to charge the battery. Until he experiences the nightmare of being ravaged by the plague. He feels watched when he stops driving chauffeured cars and returns to the subway. He is no longer a hero to the kids in the neighborhood or to his little brother, who had taken Arthur Rambo’s racist barbarities seriously: “We knew why we hated,” the boy snapped at the writer in a scathing speech.
“We don’t realize the central place social networks have in our lives,” warns the director. “Everything is said in it and all messages are on the same level, what the president of the republic says is worth as much as a successful young writer. The posts are selected by the number of followers you have. You write short, fast and every word is subject to simplification. That facilitates violence, because it is easier to offend on Twitter than in real life. And it scares me, because violence is inherent in social networks. In the film, the publishing house that went on to cash in on the protagonist’s novels does not hesitate for a moment to send him out. It is the so-called ‘cancellation culture’, which according to those in charge of ‘Arthur Rambo’ has very little culture: «It is a weapon that serves someone from behind, a matter of power. It’s not very expensive for the publisher to bring this kid back to his neighborhood ».
In this sense, Cantet’s film can be seen as the flip side of ‘The Social Network’, the film in which David Fincher recounted the birth of Facebook. When Mark Zuckerberg starts his company to take revenge on an ex-girlfriend, Karim D. suffers firsthand from the class struggle, because ‘Arthur Rambo’ talks about that too. “He is a very representative character of our time and of a very pronounced social divide in France, especially in Paris,” says Laurent Cantet. «For a boy from the ‘banlieue’ it is very difficult to find his place in the capital». It only takes the spark of a tweet to explode the resentment of race and social class. “The kids born with social networks think they can handle it, but nobody knows how they work,” concludes the director of the Use of Time and Human Resources. “You think you’re having fun with three or four colleagues without realizing that you’re addressing the whole world. The internet has a lot of memory, even if you delete what you have written, it will remain on someone’s computer. You write a joke in seconds without knowing it has a weight that you don’t measure.
Source: La Verdad
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