Iron and Oil
Switzerland, 32 min
Through the figure of his father who died in a work accident, Pierre Schlesser evokes his childhood in a village in Eastern France. This modest film, with a discreet lyrical tone, is a real act of faith in film’s capacity to bring justice to one’s people, whose bodies have been devoured by the curse of daily labour.
When Pierre Schlesser thinks of the world in which he grew up, in a village in eastern France, he sees “a kingdom of labour” populated by men who, like his father, spent their lives toiling away tirelessly. It was the latter’s death in a work accident that triggered his desire to film the echoes of the past in the present. Framing as closely as possible the calloused hands manipulating tools and machines, he rediscovers his place as a child, observing the incomprehensible and magic gestures of the adults, listening to the concerto of steel blades splitting the wood, sniffing the odour of scrap metal and oil that still permeated his father’s clothes, shortly after his death—whose “ghost even smelled of labour”. The rare title cards punctuating L’Huile et le Fer summon a deeply moving inner voice that expresses the essentials of a taciturn gesture, an exhausting existence and its dignity too. Through this film, whose power is rivalled only by its modesty, where each shot burns with discreet lyricism, the filmmaker does justice to the history of his people, “a history of skilled and enslaved hands that have worked since forever.”