“Overseas”, bondage of reason – Culture / Next

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It’s a strange house in the Philippines, on a perpetually flooded street. Its doors and cupboards are adorned with large labels – “bathroom”, “practical work area”, “equipment area” – and its inhabitants are just passing through. This very Brechtian place, discovered during a series of meticulous still shots, is the setting forOverseas, formidable documentary and second feature film by the French-Korean Sung-a Yoon, where fascinating plays are played and replayed behind the scenes generally invisible from the big global “care” market. The building is a fake house, but a real training center for Filipino domestic workers, who are estimated each year to be around 200,000 who leave their homes to fly to the Middle East (Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait…) or in Asia (Taiwan, Singapore, Hongkong…), where they work in conditions generally bordering on serfdom.

Complicity. Every two weeks, a group of women throngs between these walls, in order to receive lessons on the range of tasks to which the best-off population on the planet is now reluctant: scouring the toilets, changing the clothes of a crippled in bed (here, a striking plastic mannequin with blond hair), setting the table taking care of the space between plate and glass, washing and changing a baby …, while enduring bullying and humiliation, even assaults and rapes. At the end of the training, the center issues the coveted national certificate of domestic work, sesame for obtaining an exit visa. But if he dangles these women that they will never earn as much “By scrubbing toilets abroad”, above all, it offers to prepare them for the harshness of their future life, notably through role play sessions where ex-abroad (workers with experience abroad) make novices experience the worst of their past stays, in order to allow them to anticipate, defend themselves, and above all avoid “Cry in front of their employers” because “The Philippines is not weak”. If the attitude of the trainers in the center, often also ex-abroad, never lacking in ambiguity, these sketches are a way, for aspiring women at the start, for at least a few moments, to be very literally actors of their destiny, and the film thus takes them out of a passive passivity to which the rest of the world quickly put away.

Photo Films of the wild eye

Often setting his camera on the threshold of wide open doors, as if to emphasize that these women are already in an anteroom, Overseas documents this small theater, its lectures, and also lingers in the rare places of life of the center, dormitory or changing rooms, to record the conversations stolen at the time of learning. One of the participants dreams of becoming an architect. Another says that her daughter did not recognize her when she returned from abroad. A third says he is ashamed of being “Useless” in the eyes of her in-laws. And most of them outline a future that has all the features of modern slavery, with an implacable lucidity that allows for a few laughs.

As the exchanges are formed, as the tearing of the departure is felt, a manifest complicity is created, a true sorority giving the impression that the film was not made “on” these women but with them, probably one of the most beautiful merits ofOverseas. The obvious pleasure they took in playing or replaying situations of domination has a lot to do with it, visible in the care given to the makeup sessions. (“You really look like a Madame”) or in the ability to reproduce the funny horror of scenes where a couple of employers (fake mustache, screeching voice) humiliate their employee for nothing. One thinks fleetingly of Good by Jean Genet, even if the atmosphere here is more cheerful. The hyper dummy thus mixes with real bitter, to such an extent that we cannot rule on the tears that gush out, and if the filmmaker confides that she wanted to film these scenes like a soap opera, what are the yellow walls and apple green of the decor, the whole seems to announce the falsity of the situation which awaits these women: these houses which they will maintain and which will not have for them anything of a home. “I will miss being able to sit on a sofa and read Nicholas Sparks without anyone giving me orders,” blows one of them.

“Heroines”. When Overseas ventures briefly beyond the walls of the center, it is to place the destinies of these women in a global context. Crowd gathered in the waiting room of the administration issuing exit visas, infinite piles of yellow files piled up in corridors where the millions of departures and returns are listed: these brief notations suffice to reveal the extent of a a phenomenon that has made the Philippines one of the largest providers of migrant labor in the world. “Heroines of the nation”, to use Rodrigo Dutertre’s words, delighted to see the currencies coming back to the country, while these much more prosaically resolve to not see their children grow up. Thanks to Sung-a Yoon, they are now an unforgettable face.

Elisabeth Franck-Dumas

Overseas of Sung-A Yoon on France 2 on June 3 at 12:25 a.m. and streaming on the site for thirty days.

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