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© Zipporah Films

Welfare montre la nature et la complexité du système de santé américain. Frederick Wiseman illustre les problèmes que cela pose : chômage, logement, problèmes médicaux et psychiatriques ou encore enfants abandonnés et abusés. Les employés comme les clients se retrouvent démunis face à un système qui gouverne leur travail et leur vie.

Welfare is first and foremost about America's down-and-outs. The countless little tragedies that cause individuals every day to overcome their distress and ask for a cheque for a few dollars to pay a bill, a hotel room or a meal. It is also the response of the institution, its procrastination, its forms to be filled out, its overworked official who try to fit a necessarily unusual story into pre-determined boxes, which give rise to as many procedures. Managing an emergency therefore implies playing for time, checking up on missing information and avoiding dramatic scenes that are always a possibility.
Wiseman remains loyal to his method : it is not so much the individual and his or her personal story that he is interested in as the person's relationship with the institution, the community. In order to see how a case is reviewed, the filmmaker follows his case file, but we will never know anything about the future of the person concerned. In a virtuoso sequence, the camera captures the heated exchanges between two Afro-Americans and a social worker. At the end a Beckett-like character goes off into a long tirade and rants "ad absurdum" about desperately waiting for salvation. This is where Wiseman's tragic irony takes over, as he emphasises time and again the postponements to which the welfare applicants are systematically subjected.
(Bertrand Bacqué - translation : Kevin Whitele)

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