AlterEgo Films : société de production et de distribution

Devil's Rope

A film by Sophie Bruneau

It is the story of a universal and familiar tool : barbed wire.  It dates back to the first settlers, the spirit of conquest and the control of the wilds. It is rooted into the American West’s development.  It is the story of a small farming tool that became integrated into political history with the help of growing capitalism.  It is the history of the evolution of surveillance and control techniques. The reversal of a relationship between man and animals. It is the story of the world of fencing in and the fencing in of the world.

2014 / 88’ / 16/9 / color / Dolby stereo 5.1

supports d’exploitation : DCP  


cinematographers : Rémon Fromont / Fiona Braillon
sound : Félix Blume
assistant director : Celia Dessardo
editing : Philippe Boucq
sound editing : Valène Leroy
mixing : Cyrille Lauwerier

producers : Sophie Bruneau, Marc-Antoine Roudil and François Ladsous

Production alter ego films and Les films du Nord with the support of Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles et de la RTBF, du Centre National de la Cinématographie, de Pictanovo et du Fresnoy.

First world screening thursday 30 October 2014
57th International Leipzig Festival For documentary and animated film - Germany

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57ème Festival International DOK-Leipzig - Germany
FIFE 2015 - Paris - France
Stranger than fiction - Köln - Germany
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival - North Carolina - USA
Internationales Frauenfilmfestival - Dortmund - Germany
Millenium - Bruxelles - Belgium
Docville - Leuven - Belgium
Edoc 2015 - Quito - Ecuador
Festival Terra Nostra - Lozère - France
Studio National des arts contemporains Le Fresnoy - France
II Fronteira International Documentary & Experimental Film Festival 2015 - Goiânia - Brazil
Festival de l'Acharnière - Lille - France (prix de l'innovation)
II Fronteira International Documentary & Experimental Film Festival 2015 - Goiânia - Brazil
Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival - Germany
Architecture Film Festival Lisbon - Portugal
Festival International Jean Rouch - Paris - France
Festival À Nous de Voir - Oullins - France
18ème Rencontres Cinéma CCPPO - Besançon - France
Pre-selected for European Documentary at the 28th European Film Awards
Filmer à tout prix - Belgium - Jury Prize
Selected for Magritte 2016 - Belgium
Images of Justice Festival 2016 - Rennes - France
IBAFF film festival 2016 - Murcia - Spain
12ème Rencontres du film documentaire - St Jean-du-Gard - France
Altérités - Ethnography film festival 2020 - Caen - France
"Lignes de Crêtes" Festival - 2020 - Champsaur and Valgaudemar - France
Concertina 2021 - Dieulefit - France
Rencontres du film documentaire 2021 - Mellionnec - France
Festival Résistances 2021 - Foix - France

The spirit of place

How to awaken and sharpen the eye, and the thoughts that comes with it, to another sensibility, another understanding? How to show and understand what previously remained buried under the information of daily life? Some film makers continue to experiment with ways to question these issues as many crossroads that go from the known to the unknown. With her latest film, “Devil's Rope”, Sophie Bruneau has joined those out there who manage to make us live with cinema as an adventure where the risk of changing oneself is really significant.

At the starting point of the film, the proposal seems clear: revealing the Conquest of the West from the use of barbed wire, or in other words, considering barbed wire as a metaphor for this broad movement which, from East to West, civilized the wild lands that would become the United States of America. Yet very quickly, what appears to be the subject will be literally engulfed by something far more extensive, more complex and more difficult to define. What will emerge is the image of a world that allows the barbed wire and the Conquest, the end of the native and the domination of the civilized. Nothing less.

Leaving the subject.

To do so, the filmmaker filmed this enormous expanse that arose and became organised while the wild territories and natural borders were disappearing. She filmed situations where barbed wire became the sign of a vast economy that reduced the heterogeneity of places and the diversity of their identities, to the same use, the same model and the same standard. She filmed the animals behind the barriers, fences and grids. She filmed the men who kept repeating, with a banal innocence, the act of enclosing, isolating and protecting animals, humans and habitats. She tracked down this singular moment when the stocking of animals and the confinement of man gave birth to a new world that redefined all terms of living together. If the use of barbed wire (and its variants) reflects this dynamic, the director filmed it knowing full well that it is in no way the sole cause of this upheaval. A sign as well as an effect, the barbed wire shows the colonization of life by a dominant power that was subsequently exported. That is why she filmed these lines of wire which puts into perspective interior and exterior boundaries. She filmed the animal transformed into an object. She filmed the freight trains as many demarcations of a space which has itself become a product of goods which have been monetised, imposing its principle of security. She filmed prisons, checkpoints, walls that lock in as well as they lock out. And in doing so, she placed at the centre of her film, this invention of a finally unified territory whose primary function is to govern the lives of man.

A radical narrative form.

To make visible what it is not, the filmmaker has invented a cinematic form that is part of her narrative. Contrary to the barbed wire's logic which is to reunite what was separated as a separate entity, she has imagined her film like a slow infusion of the separations. Her radical approach is equalled only by her mastery. “Devil's rope” has the simplicity and the inventiveness of the early ages of silent film. Without a word of comment, avoiding the convenience of the narrative or the easy option of expertise, she has built her film speculating on the metaphorical strength of the images and sounds, and on the sensitive intelligence of the edit. Hence the importance of the particular rhythm constructed out of cuts and flashbacks gives another meaning to what we may have preconceived. If each shot calls the next, blends into the next, the story puts the emphasis on the unspoken, the unseen. The off-screen becomes essential and one of the film's successes. It is built not on the basis of what we can see but rather what we cannot. As an example, the recurrent use of long tracking shots from East to West, which recall the movement of the Conquest, is culpable in the dilution of the shot to favour our progressive understanding. Unlike the pieces of a puzzle that show us the static image of a finality, what “Devil's Rope” offers is a kind of moving and mental journey that continues well after the end of the film.

To give full tribute to the film, we should also talk about the richness of the sound that gives the landscapes and beings an unusual depth; we should insist on the incredible immobility of the tracking shots that puts us on the outside of a private space, leaving us only to perceive the mechanism forbidding us any contact; finally, we should describe the individual interviews, those with a collector, an archivist and a barbed wire inventor who join an anthropologist and an Indian of the Sonoran Desert. But trying to mention all the qualities of “Devil's Rope” is a lost leader because everything fits here, everything comes together and one would have to redo the entire film just to be sure not to forget anything.

An issue that ignores the marked paths.

If the film was only paying attention to the above, it would already be exciting, but one has to wait until the last sequences to fully experience the challenge and the impact. The world behind the barbed wire is a deadly world, a broken place undergoing desertification, which exists through the exclusion of life. What it produces in the end are ruins. And the filmmaker suggests that these ruins may be the place from where we now have to start something new. To quote Walter Benjamin, “ruins open new paths, free space from its own geography and push us to find the spirit of place, a form of magic where the living is what constitutes us”. And if a conclusion was needed, at the height of the enthusiasm sparked by “Devil’s Rope”, it could be the following: how Sophie Bruneau envisaged her film - its form, its aesthetic, its inventiveness and its rigor, its integrity and its emotion - is already one of the ways invoked by the philosopher. Taking this path as a spectator is already experiencing other possible options, turning its back on the desert and coming to terms with the fear of the unknown. It is foreseeing the death of barbed wire and the end of the world to which it is witness.

by Philippe Simon, published on, March 2015

As in her previous film, “Trees”, Sophie Bruneau needs only one object to describe a whole world. In this case it’s barbed wire that tells a parallel history of the settlement of America. What started out as a useful tool to fence in animals leads to the staking of claims and the large-scale privatisation of land and ultimately to the sealing of the Mexican border against economic refugees. The former myth of the Wild West and the still popular phrase “God’s own Country” are taken ad absurdum in the face of the forest of private property signs and the gating frenzy. After all, individualisation and industrialisation come at a price. The land has long ceased to be a landscape and turned into mere arable territory. These facts are not devoid of a certain humour, which Sophie Bruneau brings out calmly in “Devil's Rope”. With gusto and a few surprising twists she depicts the origin and rich variety of this simple wire in grand tableaux. The references implied in the images to the original American movie genre, the Western, add to our enjoyment.

Cornelia Klauß (catalogue text Dok Leipzig 2014)