The First of the Name, from Alsace (Bischwiller) to Elbeuf (Normandy)
112mn 35mm color. France 1999
French-Swiss co-production: OGNON Pictures. JMH Productions, produced by Humbert BALSAN on a script by Sabine FRANEL (who will be there to present her film) and Nicolas MOREL.
Selection Un certain Regard – Sélection Officielle – Cannes 2000
First of the Name
A film by Sabine FRANEL (France 2000)
In September 1987 a hundred people or so, of various backgrounds and ages (from 8 to 88) coming from all over France gathered for a weekend in Alsace. All were related. Most had never met.
They journeyed to the place where their common ancestor, the Jewish peddler Moïse BLIN (Fort-Louis 1768 - Haguenau 1820) had spent his life. The meeting was organized by two of Moïse BLIN’s descendants brought together by a shared passion for genealogy.
Since that first trip a similar gathering has taken place every year. Every member calls each other “cousin”. A newsletter is published. A “Society of the Descendants of Moïse BLIN” has been created. The team of amateur researchers enquiring into their own family history has expanded continuously.
From gathering to gathering, from one year to the next, the story of an 18th century Jewish family has gradually emerged, providing an exemplary account of the history of French - and specifically Alsatian – Jewry. Up to the French Revolution the tale is a tale of exclusion and bondage. Then, in 1791, comes emancipation and alternating phases of social acceptance and rejection.
The film takes the history of one family as a metaphor showing the unfolding of generation after generation, leading in some cases to assimilation, to being almost not Jewish, and in others to a continuing assertion of one’s Jewishness and the attempt to preserve at least something of that tradition - even if according to some Jews religious practice alone defines Jewish identity.
“FIRST OF THE NAME” is also the story of director Sabine FRANEL’s quest. A descendant of Moïse BLIN she attends every family gathering, constantly questioning herself and others and asking “Where do you come from?” and “where are you standing in your relation to the world?”