In “Rouge”, Zita Hanrot plays a nurse who discovers that the activities of the factory where she works have a terribly harmful impact on the health of its employees. An ecological drama for which Farid Bentoumi has documented himself at length, drawing inspiration in particular from the Gardanne red mud affair.
Red: an environmental thriller coupled with a family drama
The second feature film by Farid Bentoumi after Good Luck Algeria, Red begins with the return of Nour (Zita Hanrot) to her hometown. After an accident in her hospital which is the subject of an investigation, the nurse resigns and joins the factory in which her father Slimane (Sami Bouajila) has worked all his life.
Nour quickly realizes that his predecessor has not conducted employee health examinations on a regular basis. Some of them suffer from serious problems. At the same time, she discovers that Emma (Céline Sallette), a freelance journalist, is conducting an investigation into the company’s toxic waste, dumped in the middle of nature.
The nurse finds herself faced with a dilemma: should she remain silent around a potential scandal so as not to jeopardize the professions of the employees or bring out the truth to save their future?
Olivier Gourmet completes the cast of this poignant and alarming film, released in 2021. A family drama punctuated like a thriller, which owes a lot to its performers and the strength of its subject, which Farid Bentoumi chose by drawing inspiration from a real case.
A change of universe for Farid Bentoumi
Originally, the director plans to anchor his story in the sector of waste management. But he gives up because this environment is “very guarded and controlled”, as he explains in the press kit:
There are no more pollution cases, so no longer topical.
Continuing his research, Farid Bentoumi came across the scandal at the Gardanne factory and its toxic waste in the Mediterranean. He adds to this:
The government and the prefecture have been asking them to stop polluting the sea for several years. But this factory also means 500 jobs, which is not nothing in a place like Gardanne already marked by the unemployment. When I saw the photos of this factory and its red mud, I found it very striking in cinematic terms. I transposed my story into this type of factory that also exists elsewhere in the world.
The red mud of Gardanne
Specialized in alumina production, a metallic oxide used in particular in the design of LCD screens and extracted from bauxite, the Gardanne site – near Marseille – was singled out in 2014 by Ségolène Royal. At the time, the Alteo factory involved 1,000 direct or indirect jobs in the region.
Its spokespersons indicate that its discharges are absolutely not harmful. Yet, in places where waste is dumped, they attack the fauna and flora, bruised by the red mud. In addition, several inhabitants of the surrounding area suffer or have suffered from pathologies such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, or neuromuscular problems as reported then France 3.
Several studies also show the toxicity of these red dust, which contain heavy metals and display a worrying level of radioactivity. In 1966, Alteo began dumping its waste into the Mediterranean, a few kilometers off Cassis. In the 90s, biologists revealed the impacts of this pollution, which devastated coral and fish.
A fiction inspired by real events
In 1996, a prefectural order required the company to stop its discharge of sludge into the sea in 2015. The company set up a filtering system in 2007, which allows it to store the solid part of its waste. In 2016, Alteo received the authorization to be able to continue to discharge its liquids filtered at sea until 2022, which provokes a new wave of protest. At the end of 2020, Alteo is in receivership. UMS, a group specializing in mining logistics, then bought the manufacturer.
If the Gardanne site is one of the main inspirations for RedFarid Bentoumi recalls that he also researched other factories:
I then documented myself extensively on other stories of polluting factories, other fates of whistleblowers. Red is not a documentary, it is a fiction, freely inspired by different real facts.