The 35-page treatment of “The men’s merchant” was selected for the European Cinema and Audiovisual Days in Turin, 2006 and was published on Plot magazine in 2004. By the way, you can read the whole issue on-line on Issuu.com. You can also read my text on Meetale.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the long version available in English.
Following “Plot”‘s cover, the two drawings above were made by “Plot”‘s editor Andrea Bisoli.
Below you find a short outline and an author’s note. I hope you like it…
Philippe Oriol is a 40 y. o. pedlar, who travels all over the Vaucluse canton to sell the latest items of the modern world along with other things of interest for the villagers: almanacs, prints, seeds, cloths… Julien Perreau works in the printing house which Philippe (an old family friend of his) shops at. This year Julien, like all boys aged 20, is in the conscription list. When the deciding drawing takes place, he gets a bad number; this means he is supposed to serve in the Army, leaving his job and the girl he’s in love with. Julien reacts: he knows the law allows him to find a deputy, someone who would do the service in his place for an adequate amount of money. He begs Philippe for help: he is acquainted with so many people! Unfortunately, the sum that Julien can offer is far below the current prices; therefore, Philippe faces several refusals. Philippe starts then a sort of “descent into hell” to reach to needier and needier families, until he finds the young Antoine, who finally accepts his proposal. François d’Alambert, a local squire, has a score to settle with a lieutenant of the Recruitment Council, whom he holds responsible for his brother’s suicide. In order to wreak vengeance, he bribes Philippe, kidnaps Antoine and takes his place. When the two of them get to Avignon for the medical examination along with Julien (who is obviously unaware of their plots), François kills the lieutenant and runs away. Now Julien doesn’t have a deputy anymore, and is forced to enlist. A few years later, Philippe and Julien’s lives have totally changed. When they meet again, it’s not by pure chance…
When I first heard about the “agents de remplacement” in 19th century France, I was deeply struck by such a shameless commodification of human lives in the heart of modern Europe. Some people of that age were equally stunned, like the Member of Parliament who uttered the following, heartfelt appeal: “O French, react to the atrocities that take place under our very eyes: the whole Europe rose up against the Negro slave trade, and we restore, in the bosom of Christianity, among the Whites, a huge market in which a father who hopes to save his son’s life haggles over someone else’s life with a father who consents to sell him.” I was also thrilled by the chance of telling about a country world on the fringe of History, where great deeds, great political and cultural figures were only faint echoes, effects without evident causes. A world made of toil, filthy roads, worn clothes, where people were not able to master the nature and intensity of their own ambitions. Philippe and Julien were driven into action by very different reasons: the former was worried about his future, sadly fated to be exactly the same as the present time; the latter was ruled by an ingenuous sentimentality. These two opposite standpoints were doomed to clash: Philippe will achieve his coveted prosperity, paying it with a fatal remorse; Julien will go through hardship, but his unshakeable strength of character will help him survive and eventually take his final revenge.