Three exhausted infantrymen advance in a snowy and bruised countryside, desolate plain and dark forest where bits of rags hanging from trees represent the wounds of those who crossed it before them. The three silhouettes emerge in the shot before disappearing in a game of transparency. Two ghostly drawings without animation which are enough to say that the veterans with empty eye sockets no longer belong to the domain of the living, men like the others, when a small terminal stained with blood finally appears which acts as a border. Welcome in France. Josep tells how, in the first light of 1939, the Pyrénées-Orientales became the ultimate refuge of anti-fascists routed after the capture of Barcelona by Franco’s troops. Some 500,000 Spanish civilians and soldiers reach a France still at peace which, after having welcomed the refugees with humanity in previous years, succumbs to the fear of invasion and throws them into concentration camps.
Parked in one of these no man’s land, Josep, one of these “unwanted»(According to the administrative terminology in force at the time), traces the face of one of his former companions in misfortune on the ground before two gendarmes literally piss on his drawing. A scene of humiliation among others in a harsh film, but which stands out by highlighting the double focal point with which Aurel looks at the life of Josep Bartolí: the vital need to draw who lives in this man, and the moral bankruptcy of ‘a French Republic embodied by its constabulary. A fate and cruel force of oppression which starves, overwhelms, and violently – and to which François Morel lends his most beautiful rustic and rustic voice.
It is also through the memories of one of these gendarmes – less sadistic but no less accomplice – that the film is written, testimony of a bedridden octogenarian who tells his grandson a piece of history slipped under the carpet to better explain to him the origins of the portrait of a recumbent figure that he refuses to see removed from his room. The drawing in the center: obvious insofar as this biography of Bartolí, press cartoonist, caricaturist then painter, is directed by another press cartoonist, Aurel (the Chained Duck, the World…). The skill of Josep, which jumps from one era to another, consists in adapting its line to the moment: smoky and spectral when showing the Retirada, before switching to a kind of weary watercolor during the camps or becoming round and luminous in its contemporary part. A material that forms a body while being torn in the middle by the appearance of Bartolí’s works, “Black and white, hard, violent”, like what we did “To the dirty Espingouins”. The delicate beauty of the film being to succeed in showing art as a vital impulse, intended to tear from oblivion the face of a woman from whom one has been separated or to fix the moral wanderings of a IIIe Dying republic.
Josep d’Aurel (1 h 14).