César Vayssié
Sophie Monks Kaufman on Don’t Work, 1968–2018

‘Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are’,
wrote the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in his 1962
book Man and Crisis. There is a microcosmic version of this truth to
be found in Don’t Work, 1968–2018 (Ne Travaille Pas, 1968–2018),
which offers such an unrelenting torrent of content that selective
attention from viewers is inevitable.
Unfolding like a feature-length version of the 1 Second Everyday app,
Vayssié follows two fine arts students in Paris – Elsa
Michaud and Gabriel Gauthier – over the span of a year (March
2017–18). The film splices together split-second extracts of everyday
life, global news, political speeches, advertisements and social
media; adding absurdity with intense close-ups on emoticons, and
gravitas with the use of anti-establishment slogans sourced from
1968 graffiti.
The May 1968 uprisings in France and the state of the nation
50 years later provide the loose framework for the film, which
begins and ends in the University of Nanterre (a key site for student
meetings and protests in ‘68). An opening title card warns of
graphic violence, before audio of Parkland shooting survivor,
Emma González, giving her famous speech naming her murdered
classmates is followed by visuals of Elsa and Gabriel in the Nanterre
gardens. The couple kiss as González’s raw eulogy continues,
underscored by tense electronic music by Avia x Orly that provides
a consistent musical spine to the stream of largely dialogue-free
The impact of this opening media mash-up is both confusing
and rousing, posing questions like, ‘Is it respectful to sample such
a loaded speech?’. Tragedy is ubiquitous after zooming out far
enough, and surely it is more courageous to live your small life than
to despair before the bigger picture.
There is humour in some of the edits, such as a cut from a
famous majestic building to a cartoonish Facebook page capitalising
on the building’s name to sell fast-food. At a reach, you could say
that Vayssié skewers the commercial hellscape we now reside in;
however, the point of the film is more open-ended, and its grace
notes arrive in the occasional moments where the music fades down,
and spoken words are allowed to resonate. ‘My god, my god, here is
life, simple and placid,’ reads an orator, quoting the French poet
Paul Verlaine. The speech is from 1968, but it is used over footage
from a contemporary Emmanuel Macron rally. This free approach
to looting the past is touching. We don’t have to draw our focus
and inspiration from what is most obnoxiously present. We are not
beholden to the images forced in front of our eyes. We can choose
which values to channel guided by a desire to save our souls.

Sophie Monks Kaufman is a writer.
DON'T WORK uk premiere
at The Institute of Contemporary Arts

The distinction between art and life dissolves in César Vayssié’s pulsating new film Don’t Work, 1968–2018 (Ne Travaille Pas, 1968–2018), which follows a year in the life of Elsa and Gabriel, two young artists studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Without dialogue, this hypnotic film follows the pair as they navigate love and create work amid political and social tumult. Set against a frantic montage of images and accompanied by a hypnotic soundtrack by Avia x Orly, this striking film reflects on the societal changes that have transpired since the May 1968 protests.
pour voir le site dans de meilleurs conditions, mettez votre téléphone à l'horizontal.