Staff Writers Gina Brown and Ava Schwabechner attended “The Super 8 Years” as part of the Columbia University Maison Française 2023 Film Festival “Across Generations: Unveiling the Past, Embracing the Present.

On the evening of Thursday, October 12, “The Super 8 Years” was presented in Cowin Auditorium at Teachers College. Following the presentation was a question-and-answer session with Associate Professor in the Department of French at Columbia University Thomas Dodman and David Ernaux-Briot. This event was a part of the Columbia University Maison Française 2023 Film Festival, Across Generations: Unveiling the Past, Embracing the Present.

As idyllic scenes of family life pass over the screen, Annie Ernaux’s narration adds a haunting note: not everything is as it seems. Although the family has recently risen to a new bourgeois status, a result of their education separating them from their class at birth, not everything is able to be resolved through material gain. 

The film starts out with clips of Annie Ernaux’s two children, David and Eric, as toddlers playing in their new home. The camera captures the pure joy of the children playing in the yard, the colors vibrant and jubilant. Ernaux carefully films the interior of their trendy new home, complete with floral wallpaper and swanky new furniture. The family was entering a new era of wealth, and the prosperity was evident. From clips of Christmases with plenty of presents, or family trips to all over the world, the Ernauxs kept a record of all the happy things they were experiencing. However, as Annie Ernaux would often interject in her narration, the family had its share of problems, namely between Philip, her husband, and Annie. 

Much of the clips are of family vacations. In Morocco, the family enjoys a lavish resort. As Ernaux narrates, they took their sons there to experience a different life from their own. However, she concedes, saying that instead, they were isolated in the resort with other European families, hardly even seeing actual Moroccans. The same went for their trip to Albania, where Ernaux shares she experienced a sort-of depressive episode. In Chile, Philip and Annie viewed their filming there as a report on the success of Allende, the new socialist Chilean president. 

As the camera captured Annie Ernaux’s sons growing older and older, it also captured the growing distance between the couple. In several scenes, Annie would gaze at the camera and the man behind it, her husband, with a look of disappointed sadness. These clips were tinged with a kind of violence. And soon enough, the clips stopped. The couple split. Philip took the camera, but left Annie the film. Just like that, the Super 8 years were over. 


After the film ended, associate professor of French and director of the History and Literature MA at Columbia’s Global Center in Paris, Thomas Dodman sat down with David Ernaux-Briot to conversate about the film.

To preface, the Q&A was mostly in French, with Professor Dodman translating David’s responses. 

Professor Dodman began by asking David about the genesis of the film and the division of labor between David and Annie throughout the process. David explained that the inspiration from the film sparked when David’s son asked to see film reels from his father’s childhood, and when they sat down with Annie to view them, she began to narrate the reels. Hearing his mother reflect on the footage from his childhood evoked great inspiration in David to create this film. Annie wrote the story and narration for the film in a “witness voice”, which followed her own personal presence and perception. David asserted that for both creative and engagement purposes it was intentional that the images in the film don’t come first, the text/narration must come first and the image follows.  

Professor Dodman continued by asking about the editing process. He questioned whether cutting the film down was consciously made with Annie’s input, and what film reels David chose to leave out. David responded by asserting that most of the decisions of what to cut were dictated by Annie’s narration. Because of this, he has less autonomy over the intentionality of what to cut as the images must follow the text. However, he further explained that he took liberties with reorganizing in the editing process, which contributed to the overall narrative form of the film. 

Professor Dodman then praised David for the amazing work of displaying the passage of time in this film. He questioned if David and Annie conversated about the thickness of contemporality within The Super 8 Years

David made a joke in French regarding how despite the film process being collaborative between Annie and himself, they did not talk about the theme of time in the film. The Super 8 film form is unique as it contributes to organically marking the passage of time. David continued by describing how Annie’s text is linear and continuous, with dates punctuating the narrative process throughout the film. The dates that punctuate the film allow for the blending of personal and social histories in both the Ernaux family and Europe as a whole. 

The final question that we heard David ask was regarding David’s insight on the continuation of Annie’s work in a different medium—film. 

David agreed that The Super 8 Years is an extension of Annie’s autobiographical writing, and in many ways this film is a companion to her book The Years. However, the film offers a unique insight into Annie’s life that is often not discussed deeply in her books, the presence of Philippe Ernaux. As the footage from the Super 8 was mostly taken by Philippe Ernaux, it is evident there is a loving gaze upon Annie and her children throughout most of the film. David and Professor Dodman’s commentary reveal how this film recovers peace and light of childhood in The Super 8 Years

“Across Generations” poster via La Maison Française.