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Robbing & Stealing: Ameur-Zaimeche Takes on 18th Century Tune ‘Les Chants de Mandrin’

Ameur-Zaïmeche (director has seen his previous two films Bled Number One and Dernier Maquis shown on the Croisette) will once again go in front and behind the camera in Les Chants de Mandrin – a French/Belgian/Spanish co-production that started shooting this week.

Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood showed in Cannes this past May, and one year later we might get a Hood-like eighteenth century hero in Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche’s fourth feature. Taking a page from Abdellatif Kechiche, Cineuropa reports that Ameur-Zaïmeche (director has seen his previous two films Bled Number One and Dernier Maquis shown on the Croisette) will once again go in front and behind the camera in Les Chants de Mandrin – a French/Belgian/Spanish co-production that started shooting this week. The cast includes Sylvain Roume, Abel Jafri, Sylvain Rifflet, Salim Ameur-Zaïmeche, Christian Milia-Darmezin, Kenji Meunier, Jean-Luc Nancy and Jacques Nolot.

Les Chants de Mandrin opens with the execution of famous outlaw Louis Mandrin, a popular hero of the mid-eighteenth century, this sees the historical figure and his companions set out on a new, risky smuggling campaign in the French provinces. Protected by their weapons, the smugglers organise illegal markets on the outskirts of villages, where they sell tobacco, fabric and precious products. They write songs in honour of Mandrin, print them and hand them out to the peasants of the kingdom. Produced by Sarrazink Productions, Les Chants de Mandrin is co-produced by France’s Moving Scope, Belgium’s CCE and Spain’s Paco Poch. MK2 are handling sales.

For those who are interested: I pulled the whole legend of Mandrin from wiki:

Son of François-Antoine Mandrin, a merchant at Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, and elder of nine children, he becomes head of the family at 17, upon his father’s death. His family was honorable and well established, but declining and less well to do than at earlier times.

His first contact with the Ferme générale (except for ordinary and mandatory tax paying) happens in 1748, a contract to send supplies to the French armies in Italy on « 100 mules less 3 ». It happens that he lost most of his animals on the way back to Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, during the crossing of the Alps. He only had 17 beasts left on arrival, and they were in an extremely sorry state. The Ferme générale refused to pay him.

On July 27, 1753, following a brawl where his opponent was killed, Louis Mandrin and his friend Benoît Brissaud are sentenced to death. Mandrin flees, but Brissaud is hanged on Breuil square in Grenoble. On the same day, his brother Pierre Mandrin is hanged for coining. He then declares war on the Ferme générale’s tax collectors.

At the time the farmers general were thoroughly despised by the population. They collected taxes for the king, mostly indirect taxes on commercial goods (the most infamous of which being the gabelle, a tax on salt, but many other goods, such as tobacco were very heavily taxed). the tax farming system in force at the time caused massive abuse. The farmers general were getting obscenely wealthy for, while they levied as much money as they could, they paid the royal coffers only a pre agreed amount, that could be as low as a mere quarter of the taxes actually collected.
Mandrin became part of a band of smugglers operating between the Swiss Cantons, Geneva, France and Savoy, which was then a sovereign state, mostly trafficking tobacco. He rapidly rose to be chief of the group. He then was a the head of 300 men and organised his band as a true military regiment. He installed his weapons and goods storehouses in Savoy (then a duchy that was part of the kingdom of Sardinia), and believed himself out of the reach of French authorities. During the year 1754 he organised six military style campaigns. Targeting only the unpopular farmer generals, he rapidly got support from the mass of the local people.

He bought goods (cloth, hides, tobacco, canvas and spices) in Switzerland, which he then resold in French towns without paying the Ferme Générale any of the owed taxes. The population was delighted with such bargains. Soon, ordinances were passed, forbidding the buying of his smuggled goods. But in Rodez, he made a show of provocation by forcing Ferme Générale employees to buy his goods at gunpoint.

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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