Can Jewish and Arab Israeli film students understand each other better if they watch a 50-year old French film about race relations in the Ivory Coast? Filipa César, a Portuguese artist, had the idea of showing a multi-cultural collection of film students in this country Jean Rouch’s Cinéma-vérité work The Human Pyramid and filming a subsequent discussion. The result is The Four Chambered Heart, screened at the Cinema South festival in Sderot.
Rouch’s film teeters on the fence between documentary and fiction. At the end of the 1950s, just before Côte d’Ivoire achieved independence, he took a group of black and white high school seniors in Abijan and asked them to improvise a story about race relations in their class. The film shows the students acting out the story, interspersed with voice-overs by the director and occasional interspliced scenes in which the teenagers are themselves and not their characters. The story follows the initiative of a new white girl, Nadine, who convinces the whites and blacks to socialize, and the disaster that follows as a result of her own inability to distinguish between displays of friendly affection and of romantic love.
One subtext of the film is that integration equals socialization—that if people belonging to two different racial, national, or cultural groups go to parties and have picnics together, harmonious relations will prevail. Another is that France is more advanced in the field of race relations than the Anglo-Saxon world—the students frequently refer to South African Apartheid and occasionally to segregation in the U.S. And, indeed, in 1959 the French were doing what was unthinkable in the U.S.—they had black and white kids in the same classrooms. On the other hand, as the film shows, the race barrier, while invisible, was still high, both inside and outside the classroom.