The screening I organised of Jean-Pierre Sturm’s ‘Ma commere Alfred’ in the grand surrounds of the University of London Institute in Paris (ULIP) turned out to be a social experiement of sorts: torture for some, entertaining for a few and very useful indeed for my audience study. The audience was largely made up of Lycéens who were completing preparatory studies before embarking on university degrees at the highly competitive Grandes Écoles in France. With an average age of 19 years old, they seemed to be an extremely dynamic group, willing to offer opinions and engage in intelligent discussion around a range of different themes thrown at them.
Having seen the DVD of ‘Ma commere Alfred’ many times, during the screening itself I positioned myself at the back of ULIP’s plush mini-cinema and focused on the job of watching the spectators watching. I also found myself listening intently, not to the comedians, but to the laughter and comments within the intimate cinema space. This made my whole viewing experience very tense and uncomfortable. I didn’t lean back in my chair once, poised to explain, intervene and pick up on the twitching in seats or sniggers, and sensitive to any indication of the varying affective states of those present. On this occasion the DVD seemed extremely long. The teacher accompanying the students kept glaring at the one spectator who was laughing heartily all the way through, until about 10 minutes from the end when he finally cracked, grabbed his coat and bolted for the door. I’d succeeded in breaking the boujwa boug’la.
The apéro and discussion afterwards seemed to calm everyone’s nerves and luckily for me the students were far more open-minded than their teacher, who astonished at the play’s success in Paris, immediately cast it off a play from the banlieues noires. I’m very grateful to the audience member who challenged him on this!! The critical responses of the students were as immediate but thankfully far more perceptive. In the end I was glad I chose Alfred over the much safer Claire Denis option that they probably would’ve loved. Revulsion after all is very revealing.