Set almost entirely within an A&E on a night of Yellow Vest protests, The Divide follows the collision of a number of characters as tensions run high. Reminiscent of something like Clash, the political situation in France is boiled down to this one place.
There are four main characters, a lesbian couple on the verge of breaking up, a Yellow Vest protestor, and a nurse who is at her wit’s end trying to meet the needs that are far outstripping the hospital’s ability to provide. There are only a few establishing scenes before entering the A&E, introducing Raphaelle and Julie.
Julie is leaving her wife, and you understand why after 5 minutes of sharing the screen with her. She’s narcissistic, relentless, and thoroughly obnoxious. She goes down on her elbow in the street, after following and continuing to argue with Julie after she’s been clear and explicit about wanting to drop the subject because her decision’s been made. She then tries to leverage her injury to make Julie stay with her, if only for the evening at the hospital.
The other short scenes before we enter the A&E are of Yann, a truck driver, sick of insecure employment, shit wages, and being unable to support himself, who has come to protest in a march down the Champs-Elysee towards the presidential palace. Yann is passionate, pissed off, and hopelessly naïve about what to expect. He’s actually enjoying himself and having a laugh, he offers the riot cops a smoke and asks them to join the protest, since it’s their shit wages and pensions too. He seems genuinely surprised when they respond with tear gas and grenades.
So you have an A&E full of the usual night’s falls and scrapes, the Yellow Vests pouring in injured, and the hospital understaffed and struggling to hold it together. The hospital staff themselves have been out on strike, with signs on the walls saying, “Overworked staff = patient safety”. Yann tells them they should be out protesting with him, they ask who would be here to treat folk like him if they did that.
At first the film is somewhat buoyant, even funny at times. Yann tries to rally support for the protests from people in the waiting room who are just exhausted, hungry, and sore. Raf throws a fit like a toddler every time Julie leaves her side. Together they end up bickering, and are generally the kind of nightmare patients hospital staff dread.
But as the night wears on, tensions ramp up. It’s obvious the nurses don’t have enough staff to cope, people are waiting for hours to be seen by a doctor, and it’s only a matter of time before something gets missed. And then the police show up and make everything worse. Classic.
The Divide shows the effects of the public sector cuts, while simultaneously showing the violence of the repression of those trying to oppose them. It puts a face on the long waits, the exhausted staff, and traces the impacts that get hidden among the stats – not catching a problem in time, leaving vulnerable patients alone for hours on end, having problems escalate when they could be avoided altogether with timely and effective first treatment.
The Divide in the film stands for many things, for Raf and Julie’s breakup, for their separation from their son who is also demonstrating in these matches, for the haves and have-nots in France. Whether it is class, politics, love or power, The Divide shows a deeply fractured society that is struggling to unite even behind the basic fight to survive.