“Machine”, kung fu at the service of the class struggle

Kung fu, Marxism, trade unionists, Yellow Vests, in a mainstream TV series? We think we’re dreaming when we discover the descriptions of the new Machine series, on Arte. When we turn on the television, it’s mostly out of curiosity. We are so used to the miserabilist presentations of employees in cinema and the inability of screenwriters to envisage them organizing collectively, that it is difficult to imagine a series presenting an active, positive, hopeful struggle. Very quickly, we are caught up in this series telling the story of a young former special forces soldier on the run, who is hired as a temporary mechanic in a household appliances factory, and will quickly help the employees to defend themselves. With her practice of kung fu, she will fight against the Korean bosses who want to cut up the factory, but also against the police, against a barbouze sent by Matignon, against the far-right skinheads paid to break the strike, etc. This series is an urgent binge-watch on the Arte replay.

“I wanted (…) to create a series that would speak to my children, showing them that class struggle is not a dead concept. That class struggle is still something cool. And for my daughters, I wanted to embody it through a heroine who is not a victim, as is often the case in cinema. », explains Fred Grivois, the director of the Machine series. The least we can say is that he succeeded in his objective. The heroine played by Margot Bancilhon is indeed anything but a victim. This is due to his ability to fight in Kill Bill mode (with The Chemical Brothers playing in the background) of course, but also to his progressive awareness of capitalist exploitation and the importance of fighting collectively. She gradually moves from a fight for personal revenge to a fight for collective emancipation. This allows him to overcome the difficulties of his current life, as well as his past traumas. She owes this evolution largely to her meeting with her colleague JP (played by Joey Starr), who got out of his heroin addiction thanks to reading Marx and cycling.

Rarely has a series cited Marx so much

Trade unionism with fists

The great strength of the series is that the multiple references to Marx are not gratuitous. The character played by Joey Starr certainly quotes him extensively (“ It is not consciousness that determines existence, it is social existence that determines consciousness “, ” An idea becomes a force when it seizes the masses”, “It is in practice that man proves his truth “, etc.). But the series also truly shows the daily lives of employees, the exploitation they suffer, and updates, for the first time to my knowledge in a work of television fiction, fundamental debates in trade unionism. In particular, the employees are hesitating between two strategic lines faced with the desire to close the factory by the Korean group that owns it: draw a line under the production tool and strike to obtain better severance pay or, as JP defends, take over the factory in self-management to continue to produce collectively while ceasing to be exploited.

It is in practice that man proves his truth

Joey Starr…Quoting Marx

In any case, we will have to fight. “ For my children, today, trade unionism is people who make merguez in demonstrations! I am convinced that the fight is fought with fists », Director Fred Grivois does not hesitate to say. In the series, certain trade unionists are criticized for their fatalism, their corruption, their desire to negotiate at all costs with the boss. But the collective struggle takes over and overall, the creators of the series’ view of them is benevolent. The characters in the series are not unambiguous, they have ambivalent personalities; it thus mixes the realism of certain behaviors with numerous scenes of spectacular fighting.

In “Machine”, traditional unionism takes its place, but not as much as employers

Jeff Bezos finances a Marxist series

Around the factory where the series takes place also appear the Yellow Vests, in solidarity with the strikers, as well as the far-right skinheads, paid by an envoy from Matignon to break the strike. As for the employers, they are presented in their different forms today: the manager of the factory, belonging to the French family who historically founded the company, but also the Korean bourgeois who bought it. The son of the Korean owner thus arrives in France to resolve the social conflict, but never leaves his hotel where he spends his time drinking tea and painting scabs, in a social bubble that his fortune maintains. The series also does not lack humor, its presentation of class struggle is never heavy or overly optimistic. For those who don’t have time to watch Machine on Arte, don’t worry, it will then be available on the Amazon Prime platform, which co-produced it. “ We are delighted to see that Jeff Bezos financed a series which talks about the reappropriation of the working tools by the proletariat », quips his co-writer Thomas Bidegain, who with his sidekick Fred Grivois seemed to have a lot of fun making this series. A decidedly communicative pleasure.


Guillaume Etiévant


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